If we were to ask you to picture a ballerina and a U.S. Marine, you would likely have two very different images in mind. This makes sense because there are so many differences between a person expressing herself artistically on stage versus someone who trains for combat and has the responsibility of protecting our nation. There aren’t many areas where the two overlap, but one is “increased risk of physical injuries.”
One particular injury both dancers and military personnel can (and do) sustain are shin splints. Of course, even if you’ve never set foot on a stage or served in the military, you could still potentially develop a case of shin splints. When you do, it’s helpful to know how to relieve the pain they cause and prevent them from coming back.
Shin Splint Causes and Symptoms
The technical term for the injury is “tibial stress syndrome,” which reflects the fact shin splints are experienced along the tibia (the larger of the two bones forming your lower leg). This particular leg bone is instrumental for supporting most of your body’s weight when walking, running, standing, and other upright activities. The tibia is also a key component of both your ankle and knee joints.
Your tibia and its respective tendons and muscles can become injured when they are faced with repetitive and excessive stress. When the tendons—connective tissues anchoring muscles to the shinbone—are overworked, problems can develop.
Shin splints are a fairly common lower leg injury you might sustain during physical activity. When the levels of intensity or duration of running sessions, sport participation, or other exercise routines are suddenly increased (without giving your body time to adjust), your risk of this injury is increased.
Some individuals tend to have a greater risk factor than others when it comes to developing shin splints, and these include:
- Dancers and athletes who participate in sports played on hard surface and require frequent, sudden starts and stops
- Individuals who have arch abnormalities – flatfoot or cavus foot (high foot arches)
- Military recruits not used to intense physical activity
- Novice runners who are just starting a training program
With regards to demonstrated symptoms, the main one is a sharp pain that typically accompanies physical activities, especially those that feature lots of running. In addition to the pain, there may also be tenderness and soreness running along the inner edge of the tibia. Less often, there is also swelling with a case of shin splints.
It’s important to mention that in spite of feeling the pain decrease when you are done running, dancing, or playing your preferred sport, this is no guarantee that the condition has improved. If it is not properly treated, the condition can worsen, cause greater pain, and even become a chronic, lingering issue. Once you have reached that point, home care measures are not as effective, which means you should give us a call and schedule an appointment with Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida.
Shin Splint Treatment and Prevention
When it comes to shin splints, the good news is that the vast majority of cases are effectively treated with at-home care. We do love seeing and treating our patients, but it makes us feel better if you can resolve the problem on your own. To do so, you will likely need to use:
- Rest. Perhaps the very best thing you can do for your body is give it time to repair the injured tissue. Taking time away from high-impact activities is certainly a wise move. An even better one is to switch to low-impact exercises (walking, swimming, cycling, yoga) in the meantime. This will enable the tissues in your shins to heal properly, while still keeping you active and contributing to your overall health and wellness.
- Ice. You can relieve pain and reduce any swelling by icing your injured shin(s) four to eight times throughout the day, keeping ice on the area for 15 to 20 minutes each time. Make sure you wrap the ice in a thin towel first to protect your skin from damage.
- Pain medication. You might also want to alleviate the pain and swelling with over-the-counter medications. Check with our office first for the specific types of medicine and recommended dosages that will work best for you.
In the event you are not finding the relief you need by using these treatment options, you may need the professional care we are able to offer at our five Florida offices. Instead of suffering from the pain and potentially causing a bigger problem, simply give us a call and request an appointment with our staff.
As is always the case, the best practice for treating shin splints is preventing the injury from happening in the first place. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to lower your risk. Some of the best tips for avoiding shin splints include:
- Cross-train. Avoid overworking the soft tissues in your lower legs by swapping out some high-impact activities for low-impact ones. As an example, consider running three times and then go swimming or cycling on the other days (instead of running six days a week).
- Strength training. Strengthening your calf muscles reduces your risk of shin splints and other common injuries like Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis.
- Use arch supports. Given that a potential root cause of shin splints is abnormal arch height, you may benefit from certain over-the-counter shoe inserts to provide enhanced arch support. Even better is to have our specialists prescribe custom orthotics that are prepared specifically for your unique feet and gait pattern.
- Wear proper footwear. Always wear appropriate running or athletic shoes that fit correctly and are activity-appropriate. Replace your running footwear after around 350-500 miles of running usage.
Shins splints are one of the many conditions our doctors at Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida can treat for you at our five offices – Orlando, Altamonte Springs, Kissimmee, Lake Mary, and Tavares. You can connect with us online if you would like additional information, or give us a call today at 407-339-7759 or 352-589-9550 (if you call from Lake County) to request your appointment at whichever of our locations is most convenient for you.