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What Exactly Are Shin Splints?

Posted on in Health & Fitness, Sports Medicine

Leg pain is a fairly common occurrence for athletes—especially long distance runners. Running puts pressure on the joints, including the hips, knees and ankles, as well as on the feet and legs. Whenever pain develops in the lower legs it is often assumed to be shin splints, but shin splints are actually a specific problem that can develop in the shins, the bones that run along the front of the lower legs.

Shin splints are a sort of overuse injury that develop when inflammation builds up around the soft tissues of the lower leg. The injury can develop in two areas surrounding the shin. When they develop on the outer edge of the mid region of the leg, near the shinbone, they are called anterior shin splints. When they develop on the inside of the leg they are referred to as medial shin splints.

shin splintsSo, What Are Shin Splints?

There is some disagreement among experts as to what exactly causes shin splints to develop. The leading theories include:

  • Shin splints may be caused by small tears in muscle that has been pulled off the bone.
  • Inflammation in the tissue sheath that wraps around the shin bone.
  • Inflammation in the muscles surrounding the shin bone.

Many sport and exercise doctors believe that they are actually caused by a combination of several of these factors. What medical experts do agree on is that shin splints are unique to athletes, they are caused by regular physical activity, and whatever is the primary cause of the pain, the best way to treat shin splints seems to be clear.

Because they are caused by overuse, shin splints are pretty much reserved for regular athletes. They can happen to athletes of any age or expertise level, from youth soccer all the way to professional ball players.

Rest Is Best

Experts agree that the best way to treat shin splints is with a combination of rest, ice and stretching. It is recommended to stop running entirely when shin splints first develop, as they will grow worse over time. Secondly, ice the shins regularly to reduce inflammation in the legs. Doing basic Achilles stretches often helps to ease the pain of shin splints and stretch the muscles and tissues surrounding the shin bone.

If you are going to continue working out while struggling with shin splints, the best thing you can do is wrap the injury. Don’t wait too long before seeking the medical expertise of a sports medicine doctor. The sooner you can get treatment and address the pain, the sooner the pain of shin splints can go away.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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