Woman on beach in exercise clothing, clutching shin

Shin Splints: Pain, Symptoms and Finding Relief

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in the shin or calf area of the legs. It is often experienced by athletes and individuals who engage in high-impact activities such as running or dancing. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the symptoms, causes, treatment options, and prevention strategies for shin splints. Whether you’re an athlete looking to prevent shin splints or someone currently experiencing the pain, this article will provide you with valuable insights to help you understand and manage this condition.

Symptoms of Shin Splints

Shin splints are characterized by tightness and tenderness along the shins, specifically in the front or inside section of the shin bone. The pain is typically felt during physical activities like running or walking for long distances and subsides upon resting. It is most common among individuals who are new to running or walking for physical fitness.

Other symptoms include sharp and steady pain along the shinbone, which can sometimes radiate up to the kneecaps. In some cases, the pain may be accompanied by irritated or swollen leg muscles. Severe cases can lead to stress fractures or the collapse of the foot’s arch, resulting in flat feet and difficulty in performing daily tasks. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosing Shin Splints

To diagnose shin splints, a healthcare professional will evaluate your symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical examination, checking for tenderness along the shins and assessing your range of motion. In some cases, imaging tests such as X-rays or MRIs may be recommended to rule out other underlying conditions or to identify stress fractures.

Causes of Shin Splints

Shin splints are primarily caused by overuse and excess stretching of the muscles and tendons along the shin bones. Athletes, particularly runners, are more susceptible to this condition due to the repetitive impact on their legs. Other contributing factors include muscle imbalances, weak core muscles, inflexibility, and tightness. Overpronation, a biomechanical issue where the feet and ankles roll inward excessively, can also increase the risk of developing shin splints.

Treatment Options for Shin Splints

The treatment of shin splints involves a combination of rest, self-care measures, and professional interventions. The first step is to allow adequate rest for the affected legs to heal. This may include temporarily reducing or modifying physical activities. Applying ice to the affected area for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours can help alleviate pain and reduce swelling. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen may also be used to manage pain and inflammation.

In more severe cases or when self-care measures are not sufficient, healthcare professionals may recommend additional treatments. Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles in the shin, improve flexibility, and restore mobility. Neoprene sleeves or compression socks may be prescribed to provide warmth and support to the legs. Orthotics, such as arch supports, can help control overpronation and reduce stress on the shin bones. In rare cases of stress fractures, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged bones.

Recovery and Healing Time

The recovery time for shin splints varies from person to person. While some individuals may heal within a few days, others may require several months for complete recovery. It is important to listen to your body and gradually return to your regular activities. Rushing back into intense physical activities too soon can increase the risk of re-injury.

To track your healing progress, your healthcare provider may recommend follow-up appointments and imaging tests such as X-rays. Once you have fully healed, it is crucial to take preventive measures to avoid future occurrences of shin splints.

Preventing Shin Splints

Prevention is key when it comes to shin splints. Here are some strategies to help reduce the risk of developing this condition:

  1. Wear Proper Footwear: Ensure that you wear shoes with strong support and cushioning, especially when engaging in high-impact activities. Replace worn-out shoes regularly to maintain optimal support.
  2. Warm Up and Stretch: Always warm up before exercising or participating in sports. Focus on stretching the muscles in your legs, including the calves and shins, to improve flexibility and reduce the likelihood of muscle imbalances.
  3. Gradual Progression: If you are new to running or any high-impact activity, gradually increase your level of activity over time. Avoid sudden spikes in intensity or duration, as this can put excessive stress on your legs.
  4. Cross-Train: Incorporate low-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling into your routine to give your legs a break from high-impact activities. This helps to reduce the repetitive strain on your shins.
  5. Avoid Hard Surfaces: Whenever possible, avoid running or playing sports on hard surfaces like concrete. Opt for softer surfaces such as grass or tracks with shock-absorbing surfaces.

By following these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of developing shin splints and enjoy your physical activities without pain or discomfort.

How Orthotics Can Help

Foot orthotics, such as arch supports, can play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of shin splints. These devices help control overpronation and provide additional support to the feet and lower legs. By aligning the feet properly, orthotics help distribute the forces exerted on the muscles and ligaments, reducing the strain on the shin bones.

Custom-made orthotics are available and can be tailored to your specific foot structure and needs. Alternatively, our custom made orthotics designed for sports shoes, the Lightfeet Support Insole, can provide effective support for athletes and individuals experiencing shin splints. It is recommended to consult with a podiatrist or foot specialist to determine the most suitable orthotics for your condition.

Conclusion

The two most common reasons for shin splints are overtraining and worn out footwear.

If you want to avoid shin splints it’s a good idea to prepare your muscles with warm-up exercises before you workout.  If you’re trying something new (ie moving from running on a path to beach runs, playing more netball than usual and so on) then build up to it over time while your muscles get stronger! And in-between workouts, allow time for sufficient rest and recovery – include some stretching, strengthening exercises and massage.

Finally, make sure you have good gear; think our supportive insoles, the Lightfeet Support Insole, and sneakers that aren’t worn out.

NOTE: If you are experiencing persistent pain or discomfort, it is recommended to seek professional medical advice for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.