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Shin Splints


Shin splints cause pain in the shin, the front part of the lower leg. They can also cause swelling. The pain is most likely from repeated stress on the shinbone (tibia) and the tissue that connects the muscle to the tibia.

Shin splints are common in people who run or jog. Activities where you run or jump on hard surfaces, such as basketball or tennis, can also lead to shin splints. They can also be caused by training too hard or running in shoes that are worn out.

How can you prevent shin splints?

There are things you can do to help prevent shin splints.

  • Start slowly when you try a new activity. For example, if you are new to running, increase the distance and pace of your run over several weeks.
  • Wear shoes that fit your foot right. And don't work out in shoes that are worn out.
  • If you have flat feet, you may try a shoe insert to give you more support and cushion the impact of exercising on hard surfaces.
  • If you are a runner, try cross-training with a low-impact sport, such as swimming or cycling.
How to care for yourself when you have shin splints

In many cases you can use home treatment to help relieve pain and swelling from shin splints.

  • Rest is often the best treatment for shin splints. This doesn't mean that you have to stop exercising. The idea is that you can exercise as long as it isn't painful. You may need to avoid high-impact activities like running until you feel better, or at least cut back on how often and how long you run. As you recover, it may help if you:
    • Choose low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling instead of, or in combination with, running.
    • Run or exercise only on soft surfaces, such as dirt or grass.
    • Run on level ground and avoid hills.
    • Reduce your speed and distance when you run.
  • Ice helps to reduce pain and swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
  • Elevate your lower leg on pillows while you apply ice and anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep your lower leg at or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling.
  • Stretching exercises, such as those that stretch the calf, may also help.
  • Get a new pair of shoes. Pick shoes with good arch support and a cushioned sole. Or try shoe inserts (orthotics). Use them in both shoes, even if only one leg hurts.

Ask your doctor if you can take over-the-counter medicine. For example, ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (such as Aleve) can help relieve pain and swelling. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) helps with pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Ask your doctor if strengthening and range-of-motion exercises are right for you.

After you feel better, don't go back to your old exercise routine too quickly. Start slowly, and little by little increase how often and how long you work out. If you start out too fast, your pain may come back.

Shin splints: when to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new or worse pain in your shin.
  • The pain becomes focused in one small area of the shin.
  • You are not getting better after 2 weeks.
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