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Shin Splints: A complete guide to overcoming shin pain

shin pain when hikingShin and lower leg pain is just one of the many side effects of, rather ironically, keeping fit.

Many a time these pains are loosely referred to as ‘shin splints’ and, far from being a symptom that you merely have to put up with, there are ways in which you can overcome them.

So here we take a close look at exactly what shin splints are, and the tips and tricks that go some way to addressing the pain that they may cause.

What exactly are shin splints?

Shin splints can be any form of pain down the shin that follow exercise, and whilst they are most commonly associated with running upon hard surfaces such pains aren’t exclusively reserved for the urban runner.

Rather any form of activity, from tennis and basketball through to running and walking, can result in shin splints (although hard surfaces and sudden and heavy stopping and starting are the most common characteristics of such activities).

The resulting pain occurs along the shin bone (which is officially known as the tibia) and may range from a dull ache up to, and sometimes above, a sharp sensation that may immediately halt any form of activity.

Why do shin splints occur?

Shin and lower leg pain occurs because of the stresses and strains placed upon your tibia and lower leg.

However there are a number of other compounding factors that have been found to significantly increase the likelihood of suffering with the condition, including:

1. Started running relatively recently (e.g. over the past five years).

2. By running on concrete, running machines or up significant inclines.

3. Wearing training shoes that are old, poorly constructed or that otherwise fail to support you correctly.

4. If you have been diagnosed with ‘flat feet’, or if your feet tend to be at an angle (either of these can result in a shift of pressure onto your shins and lower legs).

5. You have suffered some form of injury that has affected the strength of your ankles or Achilles heel.

6. You suffer from tight calf muscles (this can be alleviated to some extent by properly warming up).

Medial Stress Syndrome: Let’s talk in official medical terms

Going beyond a basic explanation of shin splints and why they occur we look towards medial tibia stress syndrome (MTSS) to explain exactly why such pains occur.

Most specifically this diagnosis involves the connective tissues that are found over the shin, with the lower leg becoming inflamed.

This is thought to occur due to there being too much pressure upon the shins through exercise where the foot rolls inwards when it touches the ground; this process then consequentially places an unbalanced amount of pressure specifically upon the shin bone, and may take anything up to a number of weeks to subside.

Other tips for self-treating shin plaints

For the avid fitness fan simply resting up may sound far from the ideal option for overcoming shin splints, so if this applies to you then you may want to try the following tips:

Treating shin splints immediately

1. Apply an ice pack for around 10 minutes every day over the course of three days.

2. Opt for ibuprofen over and above paracetamol as the former has anti-inflammatory qualities that will reduce the associated swelling.

3. Stretch out your calf muscles.

Overcoming shin splints over the longer term

4. Ensure that your trainers are supportive and fit well (specialist shoe shops will be best placed to advice upon any particular issues you may be facing, such as feet that naturally roll inwards).

5. Practice exercises such as heel raises upon a step, sitting leg raises and sitting ‘J’ traces through the air with each foot for ten repetitions.

5. Take up a different activity that isn’t as strenuous, such as yoga, swimming or cycling.

As a final point you may just wish to see a doctor about your leg pain as self-diagnosing any medical issue is always a difficult and sometimes dangerous task.

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