A Pain in the Leg!
After last night’s soccer game, your daughter complained that her shins hurt, so you iced her legs before she went to bed. Her legs felt fine after a good night’s sleep and you sent her off to school this morning with a kiss and soccer practice clothes in her backpack. Now she’s calling and saying that her legs hurt again. Could it be something more than simple pain?
Shin splints are a common injury among athletes – especially runners, sprinters, figure skaters, and gymnasts. The term “shin splints” refers to pain felt in the shinbone or tibia (the large bone in the front of your lower leg) after an athlete has run or “pounded the ground” for a period of time. This force of impact can sometimes cause the muscles around the tibia to tighten, pull, or become inflamed, which leads to pain. Shin splints often respond well to home treatment, but if the pain continues, it’s a good idea to have a medical professional check it out just to be sure it’s not a stress fracture in your shinbone or another serious condition.
Symptoms of Shin Splints
The most common symptoms of shin splints include:
- Tenderness, soreness, or pain along the inner part of your leg
- Mild swelling
- Pain that worsens when you run or participate in other weight-bearing exercise
- Discomfort in your lower leg that lingers even after you’ve stopped exercising
These symptoms are most likely to occur after you’ve been running downhill, on a slanted or tilted surface, or engaging in sports like basketball or tennis that require frequent starts and stops. You may also experience shin splints if you’re running in worn out footwear, which offer less support for your feet.
Treating Shin Splints at Home
The good news about shin splints is that you can treat the condition at home in most cases. If you or a loved one is experiencing shin splints, try these remedies to relieve your pain.
- Rest. Most of the time, your legs just need time to recover after high-impact activities like running. However, don’t give up totally on exercise while you’re resting your legs. Try lower-impact sports like swimming or bicycling.
- Ice. Icing your legs can help relieve pain caused by shin splints. Just apply an icepack wrapped in a towel (to protect your skin) for about 20 minutes up to four times a day.
- Reduce swelling. If your legs swell when you get shin splints, try elevating your legs above the level of your heart (especially at night).
- Take non-prescription pain relievers. Several pain relievers, including ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin can help to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Wear the right shoes. If you think your shoes are causing shin splints, try buying a new pair of athletic shoes. If your foot shape is hard to shop for, ask your physician for tips on what kind of shoe to purchase.
- Consider arch supports. Arch supports can drastically reduce your risk of shin splints. You can buy off-the-shelf arch supports that can immediately be fitted into your shoe or you can get custom-made arch supports.
Remember, it’s important to avoid overdoing it when you get shin splints. Take a break from your exercise and recover before gradually working back to your previous athletic level.
3 Tips to Prevent Shin Splints
Rather run past shin splints? Here are a few tips to stop the pain in your shins before it ever starts.
Tip #1: Keep up with your shoes. Your footwear is a very important part of preventing shin splints – especially if you’re a runner. Replace your shoes as soon as they begin to get old, usually about every 350 to 500 miles of wear.
Tip #2: Lessen the impact. Instead of running or exclusively participating in high-impact activities, try cross-training with exercises that are easier on the legs, such as swimming or walking.
Tip #3: Add strength training to your routine. Strengthening your shins is key. Try slowly rising up on your toes while you’re standing and then slowly lowering your heels to the floor. Repeat 10 times. If this exercise gets easy, try holding weights in your hands as you perform the exercise.