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How Do I Treat My Shin Splints?

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,
Hey, I am 17 and I have been Irish dancing for about 8 years. Recently (within the last year and a half or so) I have had some pretty painful shin splints. I know about stretching before dancing and resting and icing my legs when I dance but I do stretch and rest my legs. I don't ice them because it makes me way to cold though. What else can I do to make them better, besides seeing a physical therapist (which my insurance will not pay for)?
Signed: How Do I Treat My Shin Splints?

Dear How Do I Treat My Shin Splints?,

 

What are shin splints?

Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) are usually brought on by some kind of physical activity, especially activities that involve running. With shin splints there is pain along the shinbone (tibia) – the large bone in the front of your lower leg. The pain is caused by an overload on the shinbone and connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone.

 

Preventing Shin Splints:

  • Choose the right shoes: Wear footwear that suits your sport. If you are a runner, replace your shoes about every 350-500 miles.
  • Consider arch supports: Arch supports can help prevent the pain of shin splints, especially if you have flat arches.
  • Lessen the impact: Cross-train with a sport that places less impact on your shins, such as swimming, walking, or biking. Remember to start new activities slowly, increasing time and intensity gradually.
  • Add strength training to your workout: To strengthen your shins, try toe raises. Stand up. Slowly rise up on your toes, then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat 10 times. When it becomes easier, do the exercise holding progressively heavier weights. Leg presses and other lower leg exercises can be helpful, too.
  • Know when to rest: At the first sign of any shin pain, take a break.

 

Treating Shin Splints:

  • Rest: Avoid activities that can cause pain, swelling, or discomfort.  But don’t give up physical activity altogether. While you are healing, try low-impact exercises, such as swimming, bicycling, or water running. If you are limping because of shin splints, consider using crutches.
  • Ice the affected area: Apply ice packs to the affected shin for 15-20 minutes at a time, 4-8 time a day for several days. To protect your skin, wrap the ice packs in a thin towel. If you feel too cold when doing this, consider wrapping yourself up in a blanket or doing something that will keep the rest of your body extra warm.
  • Reduce swelling: Elevate the affected shin above the level of your heart, especially at night. It might also help to compress the area with an elastic bandage or compression sleeve. But loosen the wrap if the area becomes numb, swelling occurs, or pain increases.
  • Use pain-relievers: Try ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin or acetaminophen to reduce pain. Talk to your doctor about which pain reliever would be best for you and how often you can take any kind of pain reliever.
  • Wear proper shoes. Your doctor may recommend a shoe that’s especially suited for your foot type, your stride and your particular sport.
  • Consider arch supports: Arch supports can help cushion and disperse stress on your shinbones. Off-the-shelf supports come in various sizes and can fitted immediately. More durable arch supports can be custom-made from a plaster cast of your foot.
  • Resume usual activities gradually: If your shin isn’t completely healed, returning to your usual activities may only cause continued pain.
  • Therapy: Consider getting some kind of physical therapy or massage therapy.

 

 

The treatment and prevention methods listed above can be very helpful when it comes to dealing with shin splints, but not all methods are right for everyone. Talk to your doctor about which prevention and treatment methods are best for you. If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-6475 for an appointment or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.

Signed: TeenHealthFX

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