Ask the Docs | Shin Splints
I’m an active runner and have been experiencing pain in my shins. If I stop training, it goes away but comes back as soon as I resume my running activities. Am I suffering from shin splints? If so, what can I do to treat them other than rest?
Dr. April Fetzer:
It certainly sounds like you are experiencing Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, or what is commonly referred to as “shin splints.” This condition is caused when tension on the tendons attached to the tibia causes microscopic tissue injury. Training such as running and aerobic walking can cause tissue damage, which needs to heal and adapt to the increased level of tension. When training causes damage more quickly than the tissue can heal, a chronic inflammatory state can occur (shin splints).
This injury is very common among basketball players, dancers, military personnel, and yes–runners. In fact, shin splints are one of the five most common running injuries. In addition to activity, contributing factors such as flat feet or knee mal-alignment (“knock knees” or “bow legs”) can increase the incidence of shin splints.
I’m sure that you don’t want to hear this, but treatment for shin splints typically involves several weeks of rest from the activity that is causing it. Using cold packs and mild compression can help to reduce inflammation. After several weeks of rest, you can resume training at a level much lower than what you were doing before. It’s important that you increase your training slowly, and back off if the pain returns. You may also substitute other forms of conditioning. Most people eventually get back to their prior level of fitness/training.
If the condition is chronic, it’s important to see an orthopaedic physician. After a thorough evaluation, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or diagnostic tests to make sure that there isn’t a stress fracture of the tibia. Fortunately, shin splints rarely require surgery. However, if testing reveals a partial tear in the tendon, then it can be surgically repaired.
For more information about Dr. Fetzer and the Sports Medicine physicians of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, call 877.MD BONES or visit them online at www.rushortho.com.
The information contained on this page is intended only for general public education, and is not intended to serve as a substitute for direct medical advice. This information should not replace necessary medical consultations with a qualified orthopaedic physician.
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