QMy daughter runs track and has developed shin splints. What are shin splints, and how can she manage them as well as prevent them from coming back?
- T. Clark, Clayton
AShin splints is a general term that most often refers to medial tibial stress syndrome. Symptoms may include tenderness on the inside shin, lower leg pain, pain when the toes or foot are pointed, and swelling. Symptoms are usually mild at first, but often intensify with continued activity to a point where the athlete can’t tolerate his/her normal activities.
This syndrome is most common in distance runners but can develop in any running athlete, and is related to periostitis, an inflammation of the sheath surrounding the shin bone (periosteum). Periostitis can be caused by excessive impact on the lower leg, traction forces on the shin bone by surrounding muscles, improper footwear, and/or pronation (rolling in) of the foot.
Addressing symptoms promptly can help prevent the injury from worsening and shorten down time. Athletes may want to modify their running progression to minimize impact on the lower legs. Additionally, using ice massage (4-5 minutes) or a cold pack (10 min/10 min off, 2-3 cycles) immediately after running can help minimize inflammation/pain. After symptoms improve, heat and stretch of the lower legs is helpful before running. In addition to maintaining flexibility throughout the lower extremities, it is important that gait and running mechanics be optimized to reduce stresses on the shins - this will help prevent the injury from recurring.
There are several other potentially serious conditions that can cause shin pain, therefore, if symptoms don’t improve within 2 weeks the athlete should consult a physician. In addition, consulting a physical therapist or athletic trainer experienced with treating running injuries can help sort out underlying biomechanical problems related to shin pain. They also can provide therapies including electrical stimulation, ultrasound, massage, exercise, and foot taping or orthotics, which can reduce pain/swelling, promote healing, and correct the underlying biomechanical problems. Although periostitis can be painful and frustrating, with proper treatment athletes can return to competitive form, and stay there!
- Sara Cogan, MS, Exercise Physiologist
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