If you are experiencing pain in the front of one or both of your lower legs, also known as your shins, then you might very well have a case of shin splints.  In this post, we will discuss who is often most affected by this painful condition, why they are affected, and the most effective strategies to treat this stubborn condition.

Shin Splints Defined

Although there are other medical conditions that can cause lower leg pain, one of the most common culprits is medial tibial stress syndrome, otherwise known as “shin splints”.  The most common symptoms of this condition include lower leg pain, tenderness and swelling along the shin bone(s) located in the front of the lower leg, along with leg cramps, calf tightness, and a decreased ability to walk or run without interference from pain.  The bone running along the front of the lower leg is actually referred to as the tibia. There is also tissue that attaches muscle to the tibia bone. Sometimes these components become irritated and inflamed, leading to a case of shin splints.

Who is Most Affected and Why?

Shin splints are typically found among the very active, such as runners, athletes, military recruits and dancers, however, it can also be found among the sedentary when they try to increase their activity level.  Women especially are prone to shin splints due to their wearing of high-heeled shoes.  Tight calf muscles, which is often found in women wearing these types of shoes, is a very common cause of shin splints.  In addition, when there is a change or increase in activity level, the increased activity can overwork the tendons, muscles and bone tissues in the lower leg region.  This is why almost every trainer will insist that stretching both calf muscles is important before every vigorous activity.  In some cases, foot-related issues such as high arches or flat feet can also lead an individual to become susceptible to lower leg issues such as shin splints.

Treatment for Shin Splints

If an individual continues to ignore their symptoms, shin splint pain can eventually become so intense they are forced to drastically limit their level of activity.  In some cases ignoring the symptoms can lead to a stress fracture, so it is important to treat a case of shin splints before the syndrome leads to more serious issues.

Rest is actually the first line of treatment for shin splints, along with ice packs and anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDS.  It can be a struggle for active individuals to regain their former level of intense activity.  Athletes may need to find alternatives forms of exercise to maintain their fitness level instead of only focusing on the activities that seem to exacerbate their shin splints.  Women should try to limit their wearing of high-heeled shoes and include times when they wear shoes or sandals that properly support their feet and lower legs.  Of course, when performing any physical activity, good quality footwear is a must for both men and women.  In some cases, over-the-counter inserts might prove helpful as well.  For those more sedentary, such as weekend warriors, they should incorporate calf stretches before beginning any physical activity, including even a mild exercise such as going for a walk.

If the Battle Continues

Shin splints can be an aggravating condition, especially for those who like to stay very physically active. When temporary rest is not enough, physical therapy can help treat the more stubborn cases of shin splints.  A trained physical therapist will be able to see any underlying issues that might be contributing to the patient’s condition.  They can also recommend stretching and strengthening activities that will not only help heal the affected area, but they can also recommend other activities that will help the patient maintain their fitness level without further injuring the tibia area.

Summary

If you would like more information about the treatment of shin splints and/or how to increase your training level in a safe and effective manner, please contact us at Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab.  You can reach us by phone at 570-208-2787 or email us at: cawleyptfrank@gmail.com.

Article by Dr. Jeff Frail DPT.