Exercise is great for you, and it comes in so many forms: biking, walking, swimming, running, weightlifting, etc. For many people who struggle with foot and leg pain, however, exercise can be a terrible trial. One of the most common overuse injuries from exercise is shin splints. This is often used as a catch-all term for lower leg pain, but shin splints specifically refer to the chronic damage done to muscles, tissue, and bone through the stress of overuse.
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The medical term for shin splints is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome. This happens when a muscle is pulled away from the bone, causing micro-tears in the muscle and surrounding tissue that present as generalized pain. Sometimes pain can occur on the outside of the shin bone, and this is called anterior shin splints. Medial pain will present on the inner side of the leg and is more common.
Repetitive motion injuries such as ligament sprains or stress fractures only occur to ligaments or bones. Shin splints cause damage to multiple parts of the leg, meaning it is imperative for us to avoid them and treat them if they do occur. Shin splints are most common in runners, dancers, and the military, but can present during any sport or heavy activity.
Specific conditions and activities that can contribute to shin splints include:
-Starting with too much exercise, too quickly
-Changing terrain or surface (such as switching from flat routes to hills)
-Always exercising on hard surfaces
-Not allowing for body recovery time between strenuous activities
-Exercising without proper stretching
-Worn out shoes
-Flat feet or high-arches
If you feel pain or tenderness, or see redness and swelling in your legs, use the RICE method. In case you forgot, RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Stop all activity and do not resume until the pain has completely dissipated. Ice the front and sides of your shin while laying with your legs elevated above your heart. Compression socks can also help reduce swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be taken in addition to RICE treatment.
READ MORE: What Does RICE Mean?
Once you have rested and the pain has subsided, it’s important to make sure shin splints don’t happen again. Change the intensity, frequency, or location of your workout to reduce strenuous surfaces or terrain. Have your running stride evaluated for potential imbalances and work to correct these. Replace your athletic shoes every 300-500 miles. If you have flat feet or high-arches, consider a support or orthotic to support important areas of the foot.
If you have shin splints that reoccur even after these changes, it’s time to see a podiatrist. Stress fractures and compartment syndrome can both be mistaken for shin splints. Your podiatrist will perform an examination and take x-rays to rule out other causes. Often, small changes to your workout or working in lower-impact activities can help reduce injury and pain. The doctors at the FAAWC are here to help. Make an appointment today and learn how you can exercise free from the pain of shin splints.