Shin Splints Can Slow (and Sometimes Stop) the Best of Exercise Intentions

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • My friend Sondra recently ran a 5K race on a very cold morning. So when we got together recently, I asked her how the race went.  She told me that she now has shin splints, which she credits to not having stretched immediately prior to the race.


    So that got me thinking - what exactly are shin splints? According to the Mayo Clinic, this term “refers to pain along or just behind the shinbone (tibia) — the large bone in the front of your lower leg. Medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints occur during physical activity and result from too much force being placed on your shinbone and connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone.” 

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    Shin splints are caused by a sudden increase in distance or intensity of a workout schedule. MedicineNet.com noted that a person’s tendency to pronate the foot – which means rolling it excessively inward onto the arch.  Additionally, weak ankle muscles or a too-tight Achilles tendon may lead to shin splints. The Mayo Clinic stated, “Shin splints are common in runners and in those who participate in activities with sudden stops and starts, such as basketball, soccer or tennis.” You can get shin splints from running downhill, on a slanted or tilted surface, or in worn-out footwear. The Mayo Clinic added that shin splints also can be caused by running too hard, too fast or too long.


    Shin splints cause pain in the front of the leg below the knee. “The pain of shin splints is characteristically located on the outer edge of the mid region of the leg next to the shinbone,” the MedicineNet.com site noted. “An area of discomfort measure 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) in length is frequently present.”  The Mayo Clinic added that people with shin splints may also see mild swelling along the inner part of the lower leg.


    The pain of shin splints can vary. MedicineNet.com stated, “Pain is often noted at the early portion of the workout, then lessens, only to reappear near the end of the training session. Shin splint discomfort is often described as dull at first.” Although the pain may subside when you stop exercising, the Mayo Clinic reported that the pain may eventually become continuous.


    The Mayo Clinic said that rest, ice and self-care measures can treat most cases of shin splints. More.com recommends doing a runner’s stretch to keep the calf muscles flexible (which in turn puts less stress on the front of the legs. You should do this stretch at least once a day and after every run. This stretch involves:

    • Lean against a wall or stable surface with arms extended shoulder-width apart.
    • Step one leg forward, bending at the knee.
    • Keep the rear leg straight and the heel on the floor
    • With a straight back, lean forward until you feel a stretch in the rear calf.
    • Hold the stretch until you feel the muscle loosen—do not bounce.
    • Switch legs and repeat.

    The Mayo Clinic also has several recommendations, including:

    • Choosing the right shoes. Runners should replace their shoes every 350-500 miles.
    • Consider arch supports, especially  if you have flat arches.
    • Lessen the impact through cross training by swimming, biking and walking.
    • Add strength training to your workout.

    However, More.com noted that if pain lasts for more than a few days, you need to see a doctor to make sure that you don’t have muscle or tendon damage. The pain also could be a stress fracture. The Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

    • Severe shin pain after a fall or accident;
    • The shin is hot and inflamed;
    • Swelling in the shin gets worse;
    • Shin pain continues even while resting.

     

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Published On: March 17, 2011