February 23, 2017

What are shin splints?

Sports Medicine

Spring is here! With the change of seasons comes a change in high school sports. Local high schools will be beginning their spring sports in the upcoming weeks. As a Licensed Athletic Trainer, I see a lot of athletes in the spring with medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) or better known as shin splints. Shin splints are most common in track and field and cross country, but are also seen in other sports such as soccer and basketball.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints are micro traumatic injuries to the soft tissue of the lower leg. These micro traumatic injuries are caused by increased stress due to repetitive movements. The increased stress applied to the lower leg can cause micro tears in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Pain typically presents along the lower 2/3 of the inside (medial) portion of the tibia (shin bone). The pain can begin as a dull aching pain and progress to a more severe pain which worsens with activity.

How to prevent shin splints

  1. Gradually increase the distance that you run – Slowly increasing the distance that you run will allow your body to become accustomed to the stress. Increasing the distance you run too quickly does not give the body adequate time to adapt to the repeated stress.
  2. Increase flexibility- Stretch the entire lower body including the hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, as well as the foot muscles. It is important to stretch before and after running.
  3. Strength training- Increasing the strength of the ankles, hips, legs and core will help prepare the body for the repeated stresses it will endure while running.
  4. Wear correct shoes – It is important to wear shoes that have the right amount of support while running.

What to do if you have shin splints

  1. Decrease the distance that you run – Decreasing the amount of running is the most important thing you can do if you are suffering from shin splints. Continuing to run will continue to apply stress to the lower legs. Reducing the amount of running will allow the soft tissue time to heal.
  2. Cross training – Instead of running try a cross training workout. These types of exercises can include an aquatic workout, strength training, rowing, and cycling. Cross training exercises will help maintain cardiovascular endurance but will decrease the stress applied to the lower leg.
  3. Ice – Ice the affected area for 20 minutes following activity. If the pain is severe enough you can ice throughout the day. A good rule is to ice for 20 minutes every two hours.
  4. Take Ibuprofen – Take Ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. These medications will help decrease the inflammation caused by the micro trauma.

It is important to properly care for shin splints if they occur. Shin splints can become a debilitating injury if not treated correctly. If shin splints go untreated, they can progress into stress fractures. The severity of shin splints determines how long they take to heal. Some people are able to return to their normal activity within a few weeks while others can take several months. However, if you follow the above tips on how to prevent and how to care for shin splints you should have a healthy season.

For more information on shin splints you can contact a Licensed Athletic Trainer at the Fort Healthcare Therapy and Sport Center at 920-563-9357 or call the sports medicine information line at 920-568-6560.