Preventing and Controlling Shin Splints
Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, is a common athletic injury. It is brought on by repetitive running and/or jumping, but other factors may contribute, including muscle weakness/imbalance, decreased flexibility, improper warm up/cooldown and foot structure/biomechanics. Training surfaces and footwear may also play a role.
Signs and symptoms of shin splints are relatively easy to identify. Generally, those with this condition will have pain on the inside of the shin. In most cases, the pain will be localized to the lower portion of the bone. The severity of the condition is determined by monitoring pain in relation to activity, as follows:
|Grade I||Pain after activity|
|Grade II||Pain before and after activity, without affecting performance|
|Grade III||Pain before, during, and after activity, adversely affecting performance|
|Grade IV||Constant pain which prohibits activity|
As with any injury, prevention is key. Talk to a physician or athletic trainer about a proper warm up/cooldown routine, appropriate stretches and strengthening exercises that will help prevent this common injury. However, should shin splints develop, steps can be taken to speed recovery. During the initial inflammatory response, ice and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs can be used to decrease pain and/or swelling. Also, foot/shin taping can be done. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, rest may also be needed to allow the affected area to heal.
Once the inflammation has been controlled, begin stretching and strengthening the lower leg. Low impact aerobic work can also be done on a stationary bike or swimming pool to maintain cardiovascular fitness. Once symptoms have subsided, weightbearing activity can resume in preparation for a return to sport. This should begin with normal walking, and progress, based on the signs and symptoms, to the desired level.
Although the initial aches and pains associated with shin splints are relatively mild, later stages can become much more severe. Cases which are not properly managed can ultimately result in a stress fracture of the lower limb.
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