Hearing this word brought me back to the glory days of grade 7 track and field. After a fierce sprinting effort, I finished last in the heat and was placed in the lower bracket. Even with the bad placement, my shins were giving me a world of pain. Little did I know, I had shin splints.
Shin splints refer to pain felt along the shinbone (tibia) in your lower leg. Repetitive stress on the shinbone such as running on hard or uneven surfaces is what typically causes this kind of injury. This type of injury is common in runners, hikers, military recruits, dancers, and people who have flat feet or high arches. In this article, we’ll give some tips on how to deal with those shin splints, and have you back on the dance floor in no time.
1. What kind of shin splint do you have?
There are two types of shin splints: anterior and posterior. Anterior shin splints result in inflamed anterior muscles, commonly caused by activities that start and stop quickly such as sprinting or jogging.
These sudden changes put a significant strain on your muscle. If you are not a usual participant in these activities, you are more likely to experience this type of shin splint, as your muscles have to work harder in order to perform the activity.
In contrast, imbalances in the leg or foot are the common causes of the second type of shin splints (posterior). This kind of splint is usually shown in people with flat feet or higher arches. When the foot becomes flat, the posterior muscle stretches and tugs on the attachment to the bone, usually causing the pain.
Even though shin splints can be very painful, they are often not a serious injury. There are a number of treatment options to take in order to get rid of shin splints.
2. Balance rest and activity
As soon as you start experiencing shin splints, it is important to stop the activity (like running) that has caused them. In some cases, taking a break for a day or two can stop the pain in your legs. However, when resting it is also necessary to remain active in some way as your muscles still need exercise. This is especially important if the shin splints are lingering.
Try a no impact physical activity, such as swimming, to help remain relatively active while your shin splints are healing. You can also use crutches if it is necessary, until you are able to walk without significant pain.
3. Raise the foot!
Another treatment method for shin splints is to sit or lie down with your legs at an elevated level. Ideally, they should be above your heart. If this is difficult to do, try placing a stack of cushions of pillows underneath your legs and feet.
The elevated angle will help the blood flow towards your heart, which reduces any potential swelling in your legs. Once the swelling in your legs goes down, the pain from your shin splints should also begin to go down. If you’re lucky, the relief will come right away, but if you’re not it may take a bit longer depending on how swollen your shin is.
4. Cold compress
To relieve some of the pain, place a cold compress on the affected area for a period of 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Suggested cold compresses include a bag of frozen vegetables, ice pack, or even some ice cold muscle gel (found in pharmacies). Applying a cold compress to your legs helps to relieve the pain and inflammation in your muscles naturally.
If the pain is quite severe and the cold compress is not relieving as much of the inflammation as you were hoping for, taking some over the counter pain medications is a good option. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help to reduce pain and inflammation, making them the best option. Common types of NSAIDs that you can purchase over the counter include naproxen as well as ibuprofen.
6. Stretch and condition
If you begin any type of physical activity without taking the time to do some warm-ups and stretching, you run the risk of injuring your muscles. If you already have shin splint, forgetting to stretch can cause additional stress on your muscles and worsen the problem. Stretching your muscles properly helps to keep them loose and prepared for any extended physical activity. Additionally, engaging in regular stretching can also help the healing process.
7. Get some good shoes
Wearing the wrong type of shoe when you exercise can cause shin splints or make them worse, especially if you suffer from flat feet or high arches. If you are a runner or hiker, make sure that you choose a high-quality running or walking shoe with good grip and support. This will help to absorb the shock and stress that your legs face when your feet hit the ground on each stride.
Orthotics, otherwise known as shoe inserts, can also help to prevent stress and flare-ups. If you’re not sure about what kind of shoe you should be wearing, try talking to a physician. They will be able to examine your foot and determine what type you should wear for your particular activity. However, a good rule of thumb is to look for shoes that provide enough support and aren’t too worn out.
8. See a doctor
If the above treatment methods do not alleviate your pain, or the pain you are experiencing gets worse, you should consult your doctor. Once they evaluate your situation, they will be able to devise a specialized treatment plan specifically for you, which may include physical therapy.
People do heal at different rates, and some shin splint can be worse than others, so it isn’t uncommon for the healing process take up to three or six months. Nevertheless, by following the treatment options discussed in this article, your shin splints will eventually heal.
You will know that your shin splints have healed once an X-ray comes back without any stress fractures, if that was the cause. Additionally, you can tell that they have healed if your injured leg is just as flexible as the other, or when it feels about as strong as you other leg. Finally, if you can run, dance, or exercise without any pain, then you’ll know you’ve gotten rid of your shin splints!