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What are shin splints?

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Ow! Your aching leg! Whether you are a triathlete or just started jogging, there is a chance you can get shin splints. Here is an overview of the pain and how to get yourself back on your feet:

Symptoms

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the term “shin splints” refers to pain in the front of your lower leg along the large bone known as the tibia. Increased or repetitive pressure caused by physical activity or overexertion sometimes puts too much force on the connective tissues that attach your muscles to the shinbone, resulting in irritated or swollen muscles.

Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints are common, rarely serious, and easy to treat. They can be described as a dull aching in your shin area during exercise or at any time. Discomfort may be on either side of the shin bone or in the muscles, and the area may be painful to the touch.

Having flatfeet or rigid arches puts you at a greater risk of developing shin splints
Shin splints are often caused by a sudden change in physical activity, like altering your running program to include hills or increasing the intensity of your workouts. Participation in aerobic dancing and military training also place you at more of a risk.

Treatment

Don’t add fear of shin splints to your running list of reasons (excuses?) not to exercise! You can treat shin splint by resting and letting them heal on their own.

“If you do have shin splints it is recommended to decrease the level of activity you do or completely stop what you are doing to help rest the injured leg,” said Dr. Philip Jimenez, a podiatric physician at Performance Spine and Sports Medicine in Lawrenceville, N.J. If you think running is to blame, switch to low-impact exercises like swimming and biking so you don’t desert all forms of physical activity while you heal.

Apply ice to reduce the swelling. Wrap the ice pack in a thin towel and apply it for 15 to 20 minutes at a time four to eight times a day. Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) to reduce the pain and swelling. Get additional arch supports for your shoes if needed, and make sure you are wearing proper footwear when you exercise

Healing time varies. Don’t go back to your sport or activity until you are fully healed or you risk permanently injuring yourself. Contact a medical professional if you think it may be a stress fracture or if you do not improve after several weeks on at-home care.

Prevention

According to Jimenez, one of the ways you can strengthen the anterior group of leg muscles is by doing an exercise called heel walking. Flex your foot so your heel is on the ground and your toes are pointed upward and are closer to your shin. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat three times. Look into other stretches and strengthening exercises you can do. Keep in mind that decreases flexibility in your ankle joints may also be partly to blame.

To help prevent shin splints, make sure you stretch properly before exercising and stop if you begin to feel pain. Avoiding running or playing on concrete, especially if you usually exercise on grass surfaces. Decrease your stride length when you run long distances, and make sure you wear sneakers with good arch support. Physical therapy may be necessary to strengthen the muscles in your shins. Severe cases may require surgery, but chances are you will be back running pain-free soon.