Treating Injuries: Shin Splints

By Gabriel Arnold

Shin splints. The phrase itself just makes you cringe. And if you’ve ever suffered from them, you’ve done your fair share of cringing already. Shin splits are a catch-all word for pain and tenderness in the lower leg, especially on the front of the leg (the shin). It is usually felt in and around the tibia and can feel like anything from slight discomfort to debilitating pain. There are a range of causes for the pain, including but not limited to muscle inflammation, tendons/ligaments pulling away from the bone, and stress fractures in the bone itself. You can get shin splints from poor running technique (especially if you have flat feet), running on unforgiving surfaces like concrete, and putting too much stress, read: jumping, on the legs without proper conditioning or warming up.

I ran four years of high school track as a sprinter and hurdler, along with my parkour training, so I know the frustrating pain all too well. And over those four years, through research and personal tests, I came up with this list of ways to ease the pain. Kind in mind these are not cures: the only true cure for shin splints is rest and time. If you start to feel the pain I would recommend stopping and letting your body heal itself rather than push through it. But if you really want to keep going, these are the best methods I’ve found.

1) Stretching - Stretching can reduce the pain associated with splints, especially if done just before and after exercising. By preparing the ligaments and muscles ahead of time, the pounding of exercise will not affect your legs as much as before. And if done afterwards as well it will keep everything loose and prevent everything from tightening up and producing more pain. Stretching for shin splints is as simple as bending the foot backward and side to side, even writing the alphabet by extending your foot like a ballet dancer and using your toes as a pencil tip. The effects are limited but anything is a welcome reprieve.

2) Icing - Apply ice whenever a few moments can be spared. The cold will reduce the swelling in the leg and calm down the overactive muscles. It will also act as a mild numbing agent to take the edge off the pain and allow you to think clearly. Using an ice pack or a bag of ice wrapped in a towel, simply drape the ice over the affected region and leave it for around 20 minutes or so. Do this two or three times a day if possible or after strenuous exercise if time is an issue.

3) Compression - Compression consists of wrapping the leg in a tight bandage or elastic sleeve and is arguably the best way for a person predisposed to shin splints to avoid them. But it also serves a great purpose for the individual already suffering. Compression can halt or slow down the increase of pain by holding the muscles and ligaments together. It also provides necessary support when exercising. Try buying a compression sleeve for the lower leg but make sure it is not so tight that blood flow is affected, or else splints will be the least of your worries.

4) Medication - When my shin splints were at their worst, the only thing that could take away the pain was anti-inflammatory drugs. These do not have to be prescription strength at all. In fact a single bottle of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) can provide relief for several months. Drugs such as Advil or Ibuprofen reduce the inflammation in muscles and can take away most if not all of the pain from shin splints, at least for a little while. But be warned: heavy frequent use or overuse of NSAIDs have been shown to hurt the gastrointestinal tract, causing problems like upset stomach and possibly ulcers. All precautions should be taken before ingesting drugs of any kind, and all directions followed exactly.
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Written by Paul Mederos   
Sunday, 03 May 2009 16:30
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:53