What Are Shin Splints? And How Do I Treat Them?

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Shin splints are one of the most common types of physical injuries from which runners and other athletes suffer. Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), it’s characterized by pain and inflammation on the inside edge of the shinbone. Like hundreds of other bones in our bodies, the shinbone is supported by connective muscle tissue. When you run, jog or even walk, you’ll expose this connective tissue to stress. Over time, this constant, prolonged stress can lead a painful injury known as a shin split.


How Common Are Shin Splints?

Statistics show that shin splints are the single most common type of injury affecting the lower legs. While anyone can develop a shin splint, however, they are most prevalent among runners. According to Medical News Today, they account for more than 10% of all physical injuries among male runners and more than 16% of all physical injuries among female runners. Each year, thousands of runners and athletes develop shin splints. It doesn’t just affect new runners, either. Even experienced, seasoned runners can sustain this injury.


Exploring Shin Splints And How They Affect Your Body

By definition, a shin splint is any type of physical injury that involves pain and inflammation along the shinbone. In most cases, the connective muscle tissue around the shinbone develops micro-sized tears from repeated use. However, shin splints can also occur from direct trauma to the shinbone itself rather than the connective muscle tissue. A runner, for example, may trip and fall, landing on his or her shinbone. Even if the runner doesn’t experience a compound fracture, his or her shinbone may develop small hairline fractures that result in the characteristic symptoms of a shin splint.

While symptoms vary, some of the most common telltale symptoms of a shin splint include:

  • Throbbing or stinging pain around the shinbone, typically between the knee and ankle.
  • Swelling and inflammation around the shinbone.
  • Pain when walking or running that subsides when resting.


Preventing Shin Splints: What You Should Know

If you’re an avid runner or athlete, you should follow some basic precautions to lower your risk of shin splints. First and foremost, avoid striking your heels or toes when taking steps. If you land primarily on either your heels or toes, you’ll expose your shinbone to greater stress. The correct way to walk or run is to land with your feet flat so that your body weight is evenly distributed across the ground.

You can also reduce your risk of shin splints by eating the right foods. Our bodies use protein, for example, to repair muscle tissue as well as build new muscle tissue. If you don’t consume enough protein in your diet, you’ll have weaker muscles — including those supporting your shinbone — that are more susceptible to injury. Along with protein, make sure you are consuming at least 1,000 mg of calcium to support strong, healthy bones. Protein and calcium are two essential nutrients that can protect against shin splints and other common running injuries.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Use RICE to Treat Shin Splints

No, you shouldn’t use literal rice to treat shin splints. Rather, you should treat is using rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). When you feel the onset of shin splints, you should immediately stop exercising to rest. Continuing to run, jog or otherwise exercise will only worsen your injury while potentially leading to other, more serious complications. To treat shin splints, you should rest while keeping your affected leg elevated. Additionally, apply an ice pack or other cold compress against your affected leg. RICE is an effective form of treatment for hundreds of injuries, including shin splints.

Some people have also reported success treating shin splints with a hot compress. But if you’re going to apply heat, you should wait until at least 48 hours after you develop symptoms. Exposure to heat increases blood flow, which can stimulate your body’s natural healing process. However, heat also causes inflammation, which can worsen shin splints during the early stages of this injury.


Wear Foot Levelers

In addition to RICE, wearing foot levelers can also help you heal from shin splints. A type of orthotic insert, Foot Levelers are designed to evenly distribute the weight of your body across the soles of your shoes or footwear. You place the Foot Levelers inside your shoes or footwear, at which point they’ll balance your body to alleviate pressure and stress against your shinbone. Foot Levelers aren’t just another type of insert, though. They are custom designed to provide the highest level of support for your body. When combined with RICE, they’ll help you recover from shin splints more quickly.


Don’t let a shin splint prevent you from engaging in physical activities. Contact us today to learn more about our custom orthotics that can alleviate the pain and symptoms of this otherwise common condition.

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