Take It Easy: Preventing and Treating Shin Splints

What are shin splints?
Typically, shin splints cause pain or tenderness along the shin bone from inflamed muscles, tendons, and connective tissue. The injury is most commonly seen in runners, aerobic dancers, and people in the military. Mild shin splints may only bother you during exercise, but severe shin splints may hurt all the time.

Shin splints often stem from over-exercising or making a sudden change to your workout routine. Factors that increase the risk for shin splints include:

•Doing too much exercise too soon. For example, shin splints may happen when runners increase mileage or intensity quickly.
•Not taking enough time to rest between workouts
•Working out in shoes that lack support
•Exercising on a hard surface
•Possibly having flat feet or abnormally high and stiff arches
•Not stretching well enough before exercising
To help prevent shin splints:

•Increase exercise gradually. This includes how often you exercise and the length of time and intensity of each session. Check with your doctor before increasing your activity level.
•Change up your running surface. Always running on concrete or asphalt can increase your risk for injury. Try to run on softer surfaces, like a dirt trail.
•Wear the right shoes for the exercise you are doing. Make sure they fit properly, give good support, and absorb shock well. Replace your shoes when they get worn out. If you have flat feet or rigid arches, orthotics (shoe inserts) may help.
•Do more than one type of exercise. Cross-training can help you avoid over-use injuries. Try alternating running on some days with swimming or using the elliptical trainer on other days.
•Use proper exercise form. Check out your technique with a coach or trainer.
•Stretch and strengthen. Stretching after warming up but before a workout may help some people reduce the risk of shin splints. Strengthening the muscles in your legs can lessen the stress on the lower leg muscles during exercise.
How to treat shin splints
If you get shin splints, the following may help:

•Rest. Stop doing the exercise that brought on the shin splints. Take at least 7 to 10 days off from the painful activity. Some people may need to take weeks or even months off from running. You may be able to do other, non-weight-bearing exercises in the meantime. For example, if you usually run, you may be able to bike or swim instead. Check with your doctor to see what activities you can safely do.
•Ice the affected area. Apply a cold pack or ice wrapped in a towel for minutes several times a day for several days. If you have diabetes, poor circulation, or blood vessel disorders (such as vasculitis or Raynaud’s disease), talk with your doctor before using an ice pack.
•Stretch. Have your doctor or trainer show you stretches that can give you some relief.
•Use pain relief medications. If there is a lot of swelling and pain, your doctor may suggest using an anti-inflammatory medication. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicine, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may help. Always check with your doctor first before taking any over-the-counter medicines.
Once your pain and swelling have gone away, you may be able to gradually go back to the exercise that caused your shin splints. But don’t make the same mistake again. The key is to create an exercise routine that is right for you. If you feel any pain, stop exercising immediately.

When to visit your doctor
It’s best to see your doctor for a checkup if:

•Your shin pain persists after rest and self-care.
•You have severe pain, swelling, or numbness.
•You can’t put any weight on your legs.
Your doctor can tell you if your shin pain is caused by shin splints or something else, like a stress fracture.

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