Shin splints refer to pain in the front of the lower leg along the “shin bone” and slightly to the outside in the muscle group. Shin splints vary in severity from a dull ache to severe pain. Their origin can also come from a “crack” or stress fracture in the bone, or a slight strain or separation of the muscle attachment.
Shin splints are an overuse syndrome that progresses into an injury most commonly from jogging or running with improper shoe gear and hard or variable surfaces (asphalt, cement, grass, dirt). All injuries especially, ones where a fracture is suspected, need to be evaluated by a physician with standard X-rays taken or other advanced testing.
Compartment syndrome is another very serious condition associated with pain in the front of the lower leg. This is typically described as severe pain, with paresthesias (tingling), temporary lack of blood supply, and possible muscle damage, or even paralysis. Recommended testing is a pressure analysis of the leg muscle group.
If simple rest does not aid these symptoms, a surgical release of the pressure may be needed.
Stress fractures and muscle strains need protection from motion and ground forces. Keeping pressure off the area is the best way to minimize a more serious situation like separation of the fracture. Crutches, walkers, wheelchairs and strollers are also helpful healing tools.
Crutches and avoiding weight bearing on the affected leg for 1 to 3 weeks is the best care for this kind of overuse syndrome or injury, but a simple decrease in activities may relieve symptoms. Avoid bare feet and shoes without support (sandals, flip-flops, house shoes, etc.).
Static stretching at the ankle upward and downward holding those positions for 10 seconds each for 3 sets every day will help speed recovery and minimize the chance for recurrence.
Anti-inflammatory medication can help with the chronic pain that comes with shin splints, but are not very helpful for sharp, acute pain.
Temporary arch supports or supportive athletic shoes will support the foot and ankle in a more inverted position. This will put less strain on the injured area and decrease the incidence of reinjury when returning to activities or exercise. Custom molded orthotics are the best solution for immediate and long-term treatment.
Examples of physical therapy that could help with shin splints include massage, cold therapy, contrast baths, stretching, ultrasound, and electric stimulation.
The best way to know if you have shin splints or not is to rule out the more serious problems that can happen in front of the lower legs, such as a tibial stress fracture or circulatory problems. Pushing on the ‘shin bone’ in front of the lower leg and then slightly to the outside where the muscle attaches is where most of the pain from shin splints originates.
The most common treatment for shin splints is rest, ice, and mild stretching. Avoid overuse and placing a lot of pressure on the area, as well as exercising without stretching.
The only way to confirm if you know if you have shin splints or a stress fracture is to have an X-ray or MRI performed with an examination.
Shin splints can take 3 to 6 weeks to heal depending on the severity of the stress or injury that caused them.
Simply being overweight cannot cause shin splints, but will add to the forces that do cause shin splints. Losing weight can be part of the treatment for healing recurrent shin splints, because it will relieve excess pressure.
You should see a doctor about shin splints when experiencing pain that does not get better with oral anti-inflammatories, rest, or changing to supportive shoe gear.
Since rest is the best treatment for shin splints, there is no good exercise for them when they are painful. After the shin splints have healed, the best exercise for shin splint prevention is to alternate calf raises and foot extensions (pulling your foot upward) to both stretch and strengthen those muscle groups.
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Don’t settle for living with the pain of shin splints. Contact Moore Ankle and Foot Specialists today for a consultation and get to healing!
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