A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Shin splints primer: 2 ways to avoid, 7 ways to treat

Man stretching his leg outside in a sweatshirt / treating shin splints

For runners, shin splints can occur when they increase their mileage too quickly.

A long run may leave you feeling fine – until the next day.

If you experience pain up and down the lower part of your leg, you may have shin splints, a condition caused by overuse or from running shoes without good support.

Shin splints are not stress fractures

Rebecca Neumueller, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist, says shin splints can result from three different causes.

“The most common is when there is a small tear in the muscle as it is pulling off the bone,” Neumueller said. “They also can happen from inflammation of the periosteum (a dense layer of connective tissue), and inflammation of the muscle itself. Sometimes a person can have a combination of all three.”

Some signs of a shin splint include tenderness along the front of the shin and swelling along its entire length. This is different from stress fracture, which would have significant tenderness in one spot.

Shin splints are most common in runners, dancers and military recruits.

Why do shin splints occur?

For runners, shin splints can occur when they increase their mileage too quickly.

“You shouldn’t increase more than 10 percent of your mileage per week,” Neumueller said. “If a runner changes surfaces from a treadmill to concrete, or they begin a course that goes downhill, this can also cause shin splints.”

Runners also may develop shin splints from being flat-footed and wearing worn out shoes.

Dancers can get shin splints from overusing the muscles, especially elite dancers.

Shin splints also occur often in new recruits to the military because their bodies are not in the right physical state or conditioned when they attend boot camp.

Simple ways to treat

Some of the most common forms of treatment include icing the area, not running or decreasing the distance of your runs. Neumueller suggests cross-training if running is not an option. Other treatments include stretching the calf muscles, strengthening the hips and core, and avoiding hills or hard surfaces.

If you are experiencing shin splints and they aren’t getting better with treatment, contact your physician or physical therapist.

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