If you’re an athlete, avid runner, or you enjoy a brisk walk, you may have experienced painful shin splints. Medial tibial stress syndrome is the scientific term for shin splints, which affects the lower part of the leg, more specifically the outer or inside fronts, commonly known as anterior shin splint or medial shin splints.
Defining shin splint isn’t as easy as you might think. Explanations of the condition are more akin to theories than to an exact cause and definition. Scientists and doctors have varied opinions. However, most agree that it is the tissue (periosteum) surrounding the shinbone that is affected when the muscle becomes inflamed. If you are running with shin splints, here are some things you need to know.
Imbalance due to stress
The main cause of shin splints and the pain associated with it has to do with overwork of the medial area. When a person is plagued with shin splints, it is most often in one leg or the other, not both. As people exercise, they lead with the dominant leg; if they’re left-handed, then they lead with the left leg. The stresses associated with running or other exercises can cause an imbalance to occur between the muscles in the front of the leg and the calf muscles.
Pronation is normal and absorbs shock as the weight is transferred from the heel to the front/forefoot as you walk or run. It is your gait’s natural progression. Overpronation, however, is unnatural and occurs as the foot flattens out as the thigh, knee and lower part of the leg abnormally rotate on the inside, increasing stress on the muscles and shinbone.
What you can do
Continuing to run with shin splints is not a good idea. Continuing the exercise that caused the painful shin splints will only result in further pain and damage that could lead to stress fractures.
You should either eliminate running for a while or at least decrease the intensity with which you train. If you’re determined to continue training, there are a few steps you can take to minimize pain and to keep further damage at bay.
· Wrapping. Before running, wrap your affected leg with an Ace bandage or KT tape. Wrap from the leg above the ankle to just below the knee. Do this each time you go out for a run. Wrapping the affected leg will help lessen the pain over time, but don’t expect shin splint pain to totally dissipate for at least six weeks. Wrapping your leg absorbs stress as you run but by no means is a cure.
· Cross-training. Consider cross-training as you wait for shin splints to heal. Exercises that provide less stress on the lower leg, like swimming, biking or pool aerobics will allow your shin to heal without taking a set back.
· RICE. RICE stands for “rest – ice – compression – elevation,” which is what you should be doing with your injured shins. Rest as much as possible. Ice the affected area to reduce swelling. As mentioned above, compress (wrap), and elevate as much as possible, for example, if you are watching TV or using your laptop.
· Anti-inflammatories. Per your doctor, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as Aleve or Motrin can reduce the pain by reducing the swelling. If you prefer, natural anti-inflammatories such as turmeric offer similar results.
When you are healed, it’s fine to slowly return to your running regimen, however, avoid workouts on hard surfaces, running in the mountains or high mileage, at least at first. Only reintroduce your previous and more vigorous routine gradually.
A word of caution: many active people and athletes tend to think of any pain associated in the lower leg/shin as shin splints, leading them (and their coaches or parents) to misdiagnose their injury. Some of the conditions that mimic discomfort that is similar to shin splints include:
· Stress fracture
· Achilles tendon rupture
Seeking a medical professional to image the site will put the question to rest. Your doctor might order an X-ray, bone scan or an MRI to rule out conditions that exhibit similar symptoms to shin splints.
For more than 40 years, Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland has provided the highest standard of orthopedic care for patients of all ages in Catonsville, Columbia and Eldersburg as well as nearby in the Annapolis, Washington, DC and Montgomery County areas. As our board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic doctors employ sophisticated advances and specialties in the field of orthopedic medicine, such as arthroscopic surgery, minimally invasive procedures, joint replacement, sports medicine, onsite diagnostic imagery, outpatient surgery, and physical therapy rehabilitation for the full spectrum of joint, bone, muscle, back, and related pain conditions and injuries. Call us today to make an appointment at (410) 644-1880, or toll free (855) 463-2663.