Shun Shin Splints This Summer

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Warmer days open the doors for exercising outside, which also means running on paved and hard surfaces. The pounding and impact often gives way to a common runner's plague: medial tibia stress syndrome, or "shin splints."

Studies show that shin splints occur in up to 13 percent of all runners, 60 percent of which are caused by over-training and improper conditioning. Shin splints can arise from a multitude of hidden causes, including: over pronation of the foot, swollen tendons, overused muscles, stress fractures, flat arches.

Whether you are a regular runner or just spend a lot of time sprinting after your kids, you’ll recognize the first sign of shin splints as a throbbing and aching on the front of the lower leg. While they shin splints can often heal without medical treatment, a severe case of shin splints can completely wreck your game.

How will I know if I have shin splints?

The most marked sign that you have a case of shin splints is a dull, aching pain in the front of the lower leg. The pain is most common during exercise, although some people will feel it immediately after the activity, and some will even experience it constantly.

For an actual diagnosis of shin splints, you will need to go through a physical exam with your doctor. X-rays, bone scans and other tests may be needed to find the actual cause of your pain.

What kind of treatment will I need for my shin splints?

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Regardless of the actual cause of your shin splints, rest is the single most important factor of treatment. However, a few things you can do to speed up the healing process include:

* Use an icepack. The cold temperature will reduce pain and keep your tissues from swelling. It’s best to ice your shins for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for a few days, or until the pain has subsided.

* Take an anti-inflammatory painkiller. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help reduce pain as well as swelling, but use them only occasionally. Follow the instructions for use and talk with your doctor if regular use is needed.

* Put arch supports in your shoes. Even though you rather wear open-toed shoes on hot summer days, it is You can purchase arch supports from a drug store or have them custom made. They can help substantially with pain caused by flat feet.

* Wear supportive shoes. Even though wearing open-toed shoes in the summer sounds compelling, if you suffer from shin splints, it is not recommended that you wear flip flops or sandals. Arch support is crucial- have your footwear be strictly “supportive.”

* Exercise your range of motion. Always stretch and warm up before you exercise. Remember, calf muscles should also always be stretched in shoes and rarely suspended off a step or curb. It is also important to keep the arch supported from underneath. Shin splints are not caused only by bone stress; the ligaments, joints and muscles play a major role as well.

* Go to physical therapy. A physical therapist can design a custom plan to help you recover from your specific case of shin splints.

Tips by Vincent Perez, PT, part of the Sports Medicine team at Columbia Eastside

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