Shin splints are troublesome and frustrating for a wide variety of active individuals, including runners, tennis players, soccer players, basketball players, and even dancers. Whether they’re beginners ramping up their training regimens or advanced, experienced athletes who are changing up their routines, shin splints can be a real problem that keeps the highest performing athletes and active individuals on the sidelines.

In this blog, the Arlington podiatrists at AllCare Foot & Ankle Center will help you understand what shin splints are, how they occur, and what you can do about them. With enough knowledge and proactive strategies, you’ll be able to reduce the risk of shin splints, and deal with them more effectively when they arise.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints are typically classified as an overuse injury, highlighted by very small tears in muscle and bone tissue on the shin or the front of the leg. Sometimes, muscle actually peels off the bone slightly. These tiny tears cause sharp pain, swelling, and discomfort that intensifies with weight and pressure on the area, which means running., walking, and standing can become difficult.

What causes shin splints?

Shin splints are often caused by the overexertion of muscles, tendons, and bones in the shin, and can be catalyzed by a variety of issues. Poor/inadequate stretching, ill-fitting running shoes, overpronation (especially in the case of medial shin splints), or running and moving on hard surfaces for long periods of time.

Shin splints come in many different forms—they can be a tiny tear of the sheath-like substance around the bone, a tear of the muscle, an inflammation of the muscle, or a combination of all three. Fortunately, all types of shin splints require the same or similar treatment.

What’s the best course of treatment?

In almost every case, the first step to treating shin splints is to reduce or eliminate physical activity entirely. This gives the shin(s) time to heal. To reduce pain and inflammation, ice the shin regularly. These two steps are the best go-to treatment options for your shin splints, but there are plenty of other treatments you can use to strengthen and heal your shins, like light and gentle shin muscle stretching. This should only be performed near the end of the healing process, or with the consent of your podiatrist—always ask before you stretch.

How do I avoid shin splints?

Runners get shin splints more than any kind of athlete. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways runners can reduce the risk of shin splints and other serious complications surrounding them:

  • 1. Build gradually. If you’re starting a running regimen or getting back in the game, start slowly and gradually increase your running pace and volume. You’re not going to run five miles on your very first run—start with a mile or two and build up over the course of a few months.
  • 2. Run with a short stride. The longer your stride becomes, the more stretching and strain your shins face as they try to slow you down and help you turn. This can become extremely taxing for your shins, especially at the end of a long workout. If you’re just getting started with running, keep a shorter stride, then move to a longer stride as you progress.
  • 3. Wear supportive shoes. While some people think “minimalist” running shoes are all the rage, they’re not for new runners. Going barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes will dramatically increase the risk of shin splints, as this puts more pressure on your feet and shins to absorb pressure. When you’re starting out, ease the pressure on your body and buy shoes that offer plenty of cushion and support.

When do I need to see a podiatrist?

Not all shin pain is caused by shin splints. In certain cases, shin pain could be caused by a stress fracture—a small, incomplete crack in the bone—that feels like a shin splint but is far more serious in nature and usually comes with pain and inflammation that’s more severe. Shin splints are often self-treatable—but If you suspect you might have a stress fracture, you should schedule an appointment with your local podiatrist. A bone scan will most likely be necessary for an accurate diagnosis of your injury.

Trust Your Arlington Podiatrist

If you’re getting shin splints repeatedly, experiencing severe shin pain, or want to avoid shin problems completely, trust the foot doctors at AllCare Foot & Ankle Center. We’re happy to help you develop strategies to keep you healthy and active, and provide top-tier medical care in our Dallas and Arlington locations. Schedule an appointment today!