Most people who run regularly (for whatever reason) have, at one time or another, experienced what are commonly known as shin splints. Shin splints are democratic, they strike anyone who unevenly uses the lower leg muscles. Usually, the finger is pointed at runners, but wearers of higher heels can develop a fine case of shin splints, too.
Everything You NEED to Know About Shin Splints
What Exactly is a Shin Splint?
The condition is not a bone thing at all, though the lower leg bone can eventually become involved. Shin splints are actually a muscle strength imbalance issue. When the calf muscles (the soleus and gastrocnemius) are repeatedly and chronically shortened and the anterior tibialis muscle on the front of the lower leg is kept in a lengthened, therefore, weakened, state, shin splints develop. Running or walking on hard surfaces may aggravate shin splints to the point where the pain is excruciating. In most cases, though, hard surfaces alone are not the culprits.
Our calf muscles are very strong. They are designed to extend the ankle joint and lift the heel toward the body. Five-hundred-pound donkey calf raises in the gym is not unheard of. The anterior tibialis muscle, which is designed to pull the toes toward the knee, is about one-tenth as strong. A muscle strength imbalance, causing shin splints to develop, is not hard to bring about.
The Signs and Symptoms of Shin Splints
Here are some things to watch out for:
- A dull ache between knee and ankle
- Pain in the lower leg that comes and goes (in more serious cases, the pain is constant)
- Soreness or a tender feeling in the lower leg
- Moderate swelling in the lower leg
Some people only feel pain during exercise or activity. It is not a pain to work through, as continuing to stress the muscles can injure the bone. Not to mention that it will also take a longer time to heal.
Treating Shin Splints
A visit to a sports medicine or orthopedic doctor for any exercise-related pain is always a good first step. Following his or her orders is a good next step. While waiting to get in to see the doc, though, there are some basic interventions that can help:
- Rest the leg
- Use ice packs on the painful area (be careful not to frostbite your skin)
- Consider taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, if you’re not allergic to them
Preventing Shin Splints
To avoid the condition as much as possible, if not altogether, be sure to pay attention to the muscles in the front of the lower leg. Pulling the toes toward the knees with resistance is a quick way to strengthen the anterior tibialis muscle, and reduce the chances of developing shin splints in the first place. Proper footgear for the activity you’re involved in doesn’t hurt, either. If the activity involves high heels, though, that’s a topic we’ll have to address in a whole ‘nother blog post.