By Lisa Gemmel, MPT
Shin splints is a disorder affecting the muscle-tendon unit in the lower leg. Symptoms include pain, soreness or tenderness in the front of the lower leg. The condition is brought on by overuse, and while it can be caused by many activities, the most common one is running. People with low arches have a higher than normal risk of shin splints.
Treatment should begin with stopping the activity causing the pain and trying an alternative form of training, such as non-impact underwater running, using an elliptical machine or cycling. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofin can also help. If these measures are not successful in alleviating the pain, or if the pain gets worse, it’s time to seek medical attention from an orthopedist.
After ruling out other causes of pain in the area, such as a stress fracture or compartment syndrome, the orthopedist will refer you to a physical therapist. The therapist will evaluate you and identify which mechanical stresses are causing the problem. The affected muscle can then be strengthened and conditioned by performing specific exercises and stretches. Heat applied before exercise increases blood flow and warms up the muscles, and ice is used after exercise to reduce inflammation. Orthotics or a change of footwear may be recommended to help cushion the shin and put your foot in the correct alignment, which reduces the strain on the muscle.