Shin Splints : Athletic Injuries

In the course of running, sprinting, or jumping in athletics, athletes often feel excessive pain in the shins due to overuse of the tibialis anterior muscles or stress on the bones called "Shin Splints". Medically, "Shin Splints" is referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome. There are two bones in the shins called the tibia and shin, or shank bone, that connects the knee to the ankle. If you consider that they hold up the human body, they are strong weight-bearing bones. How the human body is supported and functions during athletics affects the muscles and bones of the shin.

Symptoms of Shin Splints

If you experience pain in your shins, it may be either an overstretched muscle or bone-stress injury. With an overstretched muscle, you will experience inflammation and some swelling in the affected shin area. When tingling is also felt, a nerve in the shin region may be trapped. If the bone is stressed or fractured, pain in the shin is chronic and use of the leg is restricted due to increased swelling. The site of the bone fracture will protrude more and bruising will be evident.

Causes of Shin Splints

If athletes overuse their muscles, such as the tibialis anterior, in running, they can develop pain that, if untreated, can load stress on the tibia causing a stress fracture to the tibia bone. Overstriding or flexing, and also sudden contraction, of the foot forcibly stretches muscles attached to the shin and tibia bones. Another contributing factor to shin splints is tight calf muscles from either lack of warm-up or inflexibility in the muscles.

Disorders, like acute compartment syndrome, where swelling in the tibia region causes a lack of oxygen and blood supply for circulation may result in Shin Splints. Flat feet, which causes overstretching of the shin and calf muscles, is another source of pain in the shins. Wearing improper athletic shoes for support can also cause pain. When athletes don’t drink enough fluid during exercise, or eat imbalanced meals, their muscles can also cramp suddenly and injure the muscles of the calf or shin.

Medical Treatment of Shin Splints

When pain is felt in the shins while flexing or contracting while running, it is best to stop immediately, rest the sore leg, place ice on the inflamed shin, put compression bandages around the shin for support, and elevate the leg. Painkillers can be used, but if pain persists when exercise is resumed, then a doctor should be consulted for examination. If minor, the physician may tape the leg and prescribe a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug or gel to gently massage into the shin muscle.

The doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist to learn appropriate training and muscle strengthening techniques. If a fracture of the tibia or shank bone is suspected, your doctor will refer you for MRI or bone scan and possibly surgery.

Preventing Shin Splints

Shin splints can be prevented by hydrating the body with fluid during exercise, by  eating a diet designed for athletic activity, by warming-up the muscles (particularly the calf muscle), by resting during athletics and by not overstriding or overstretching the muscles, by wearing supportive footwear or orthotics designed for athletic use, and by learning correct athletic exercise techniques. Athletic professionals and physical therapists are worth consulting for advice.

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