Bad Shin Splints

Published: June 30, 2013
Dear TeenHealthFX,
I have shin splints INCREDIBLY bad! How can I get rid of them?

Dear Bad Shin Splints,

The term "shin splints" refers to pain (sometimes significant) along or just behind the shinbone (tibia) the large bone in the front of your lower leg. Shin splints usually occur from physical activity where too much force being placed on your shinbone and connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone. Shin splints are common in runners and in those who participate in activities with sudden stops and starts, running downhill or what is known as the terrible too’s: running too hard too fast for too long.

Shin splints can usually be self-treated. Here are the most recommended methods:

  • Rest - Avoid activities that cause pain, swelling or discomfort. You don’t have to give up all activity. While you're healing, you can try low-impact exercises, such as swimming, bicycling or water running.
  • Apply ice packs to the affected shin for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day for several days. To protect your skin, wrap the ice packs in a thin towel.
  • To reduce swelling, elevate the affected shin above the level of your heart, especially at night. It may also help to compress the area with an elastic bandage or compression sleeve. Loosen the wrap if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling occurs below the wrapped area.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Try ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to reduce pain.
  • While healing and afterwards consider arch supports. Arch supports can help cushion and disperse stress on your shinbones. Off-the-shelf arch supports come in various sizes and can be fitted immediately. More durable arch supports can be custom-made from a plaster cast of your foot

It is important that as you feel better that you resume your usual activities gradually. If your shin isn't completely healed, returning to your usual activities may only cause continued pain. Once your get past the shin splints there are a few things you can do to keep them from returning:

  • Choosing the right shoes can be one of the most significant factors. If you're a runner, replace your shoes about every 350 to 500 miles (560 to 800 kilometers.) Many stores that specialize in shoes for runners can help you find the right shoe for your running style.
  • Cross-train with a sport that places less impact on your shins, such as swimming, walking or biking.
  • Add strength training to your workout. To strengthen your calf muscles, try toe raises. Stand up. Slowly rise up on your toes and then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat 10 times. When this becomes easy, do the exercise holding progressively heavier weights. Leg presses and other exercises for your lower legs can be helpful, too.

If after time and proper care you shin splints do not improve then you should see a doctor who specializes in Orthopedics or Sports Medicine.

Signed: TeenHealthFX