(Thursday, 5th Mar, 2015)
Shin splints is a term used to describe pain in the shins or anterior compartment of the lower leg.
The most common way in which shin splints is contracted is by participating in some form of vigorous athletic activity, such as long-distance running, sprinting, basketball or high-impact aerobics.
'Pain and swelling occur in the anterior compartment of the lower leg'.
Shin splints occur from over-training during an exercise programme, therefore the importance of the old adage 'train don't strain' cannot be over-emphasised. The splints are created when a person over-trains and the lower leg is unable to withstand the chronic stress placed on it.
Symptoms of shin splints include a very intense aching pain right along the front of the leg accompanied by swelling. If the pain is ignored and the person persists in training they run the risk of further aggravation of the injury. Shin splints may result in stress fractures of the tibia or chronic tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons).
The first thing which must be determined by your GP is the type of shin splint which exists. This is done by checking for the site of pain. There are three main forms of shin splints:
Shin splints are usually self-limiting once remedial action is taken in time. The first, and most obvious form of treatment, is to decrease daily activity levels. The inflamed area should be iced on a regular basis and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can also be used.
If the patient is suffering from tendonitis, they may have to invest in prescription foot orthotics (shoe inserts) if they wish to continue exercising.
Stretching programmes are very effective in relieving the symptoms of anterior tibial shin splints, which is caused by a tight calf muscle.
Stress fractures take longer to heal than either of the other two types of shin splints. All forms of exercise must be discontinued until the pain and inflammation subsides and very careful attention must be paid to the type of shoes worn for exercise. Occasionally, stress fractures may become chronic, requiring specialist orthopaedic referral for further management.
The most important factor in the avoidance of shin splints is proper footwear. Good arch support is essential, particularly for high-impact exercise. Warming-up and stretching before participating in vigorous exercise is also a very important factor in avoiding shin splints. Trying to do too much too fast can also cause injury, so the key is to take things slowly.
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