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Shin Splints

Your shins throb and ache after your daily run or just sprinting to catch the bus. 

It could be shin splints. They can be caused by: 

  • Irritated and swollen muscles, often from overuse
  • Stress fractures, which are tiny breaks in the lower leg bones
  • Overpronation or ''flat feet" -- when the impact of a step makes your foot's arch collapse
  • Weakness in stabilizing muscles of the hips or core

runner standing on track

Shin splints are very common. Runners might get them after ramping up their workout intensity, or changing the surface they run on -- like shifting from a dirt path to asphalt. Shin splints are also common in dancers.

7 Treatment Tips for Shin Splints

Shin splints often heal on their own. If you see a doctor, expect to get a thorough physical exam. Your doctor may want to see you run to look for problems. You may also need X-rays or bone scans to look for fractures.

  1. Rest your body. It needs time to heal.
  2. Ice your shin to ease pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days, or until the pain is gone.
  3. Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, will help with pain and swelling. These drugs can have side effects, though, like a greater chance of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally unless your doctor says otherwise.
  4. Use orthotics for your shoes. Shoe inserts -- which can be custom-made or bought off the shelf -- may help with arches that collapse or flatten when you stand up.
  5. Do range-of-motion exercises, if your doctor recommends them.
  6. Use a neoprene sleeve to support and warm your leg.
  7. Go to physical therapy to identify and treat issues in your legs or running mechanics that may be causing shin splints.  A therapist can also help ease the pain and guide your return to sport..

Rare cases need surgery, such as if you have a severe stress fracture that caused your shin splints.

4 Signs Your Shin Splints Have Healed

Your shin splints are fully healed when:

  1. Your injured leg is as flexible as your other leg.
  2. Your injured leg feels as strong as your other leg.
  3. You can jog, sprint, and jump without pain.
  4. Your X-rays are normal or show any stress fractures have healed.

There's no way to say exactly when your shin splints will go away. It depends on what's causing them. People also heal at different rates; 3 to 6 months is not unusual.

The most important thing is not to rush back into your sport. If you start exercising before your shin splints have healed, you may hurt yourself permanently.

While you heal, you could take up a new no-impact activity that won't aggravate your shin splints. For instance, if you run, try swimming or an aggressive interval bike program.

How to Prevent Shin Splints

To prevent shin splints, you should:

  • Wear shoes with good support and padding.
  • Warm up before working out. 
  • Work to maintain and improve the mobility in your ankles and hips. 
  • Stretch the muscles in your legs, especially after workouts.
  • Work to maintain and improve strength in the stabilizing muscles of your hips and ankles.
  • Stop working out as soon as you feel pain in your shins.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Ross Brakeville, DPT on October 02, 2014

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