With the kickoff of the spring sports season, the prevalence of shin splints becomes more frequent. Often considered a very common injury, shin splints are the cause of 13% of all injuries to runners, and with track season almost in full swing, it is crucial that athletes understand the basics of this condition.
Shin splints, also known as tibial stress syndrome, are defined as the inflammation due to the injury of the tendons (specifically the posterior peroneal tendon) and adjacent tissues in the front of the outer leg. This inflammation causes pain along or just behind the tibia (shinbone).
Although shin splints are not a single condition, they are a symptom of an underlying issue. Inflammation in the shins can occur for a variety of different reasons: Overuse, which causes irritated, swollen muscles; stress fractures, tiny, hairline cracks in the bone; and overpronation, which occurs when the impact of the foot causes the arch to collapse, causing the muscles and tendons to stretch. All have the potential to lead to shin splints. Wearing improper footwear, such as flip-flops or tennis shoes with worn down tread and shoes with little or no arch support can increase one’s risk for shin splints. They can also be caused by switching a running surface, such as switching from grass to pavement or increasing the intensity of a workout too soon.
Shin splints can be recognized by a few symptoms. The athlete will feel a dull, aching pain along the front of the lower leg which can sometimes be painful to touch. This pain can occur during exercise, when not exercising, or all the time. Sometimes, the inflammation can irritate the nerves in the feet, causing weakness and numbness.
There are many common fixes to relieve the symptoms of shin splints. Although rest is a helpful measure that should be taken, total rest from running may not be the most ideal scenario for an injured athlete. Instead of total rest, the athlete should ice the shin to reduce swelling and inflammation, purchase arch supports for shoes, stretch all muscles in the lower leg and complete a series of range of motion exercises. In some cases in which an athlete has severe stress fractures, surgery may be necessary.
There are many ways in which an athlete can prevent shin splints. First, the athlete should make sure to properly stretch and warm up before exercising so muscles are loose and stress is decreased on the shins. After warming up, exercise should be started out slowly, then gradually increased. The athlete should also switch their running surface: it is recommended to run on flat, even surfaces, avoid concrete or pavement, and stick to grassy surfaces or a rubber track. It is extremely important for the athlete to wear proper footwear with adequate arch support, such as a tennis shoe. If an athlete is completing all of their training on a track, careful consideration should be given to running half your distance clockwise and the other half, counter clockwise.
I believe as an athletic training student aide that it is extremely important for me to communicate to athletes about how to prevent shin splints before they occur in order to keep athletes healthy and in the game.
Amanda Bachman is a student at Penn Trafford High School writing for Channel One in cooperation with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Students from Penn Trafford will contribute to our blog from time to time on issues student athletes face.