At London Doctors Clinic, we’re encouraging our patients and readers to turn over a new leaf and make the 2017 their healthiest year yet! For many people, this means eating better and moving more!
If you’re new to the world of exercise, there may be a few aches and pains after your first few attempts, as you wake up all those unused muscles. The vast majority of these are minor, and self-limiting, meaning they’ll get better by themselves in a few days time. Others, however, can be made worse if not rested, and require a time-out from exercise to allow them to heal. Shin splints are the latter: the sooner you recognise this pain and get it rested, the better!
What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints is the term given to pain felt along the front of the lower leg (shin), along the tibia bone, following exercise. It is often a frustrating problem as it hinders your exercise ability, commonly seen in people who put a lot of weight on their legs, such as tennis players.
The pain felt is initially dull and aching. However it may become very painful if you continue to exercise and it may prevent you exercising further.
‘Running through the pain’, as some people may suggest, is a bad idea! The pain you are feeling could indicate damage to bone or tissue surrounding the bone. Continuing to run is likely to worsen the pain and injury.
Who Gets Shin Splints?
You are at a higher risk of getting shin splints if you:
- Run on hard surfaces or slopes
- Have been running for less than 5 years
- Wear poorly fitting or tired trainers
- Shoes that do not provide adequate cushioning or support for your feet
- Are overweight
- Have flat feet
- Have feet that roll inwards
- Have weak ankles or tight Achilles tendons
- (the tissue which connects the calf to the heel at the back of your foot)
- Have tight calf muscles
Orthopedic insoles are excellent at supporting the arches of the feet of flat feet, which helps to prevent shin splints
And the most common cause of shin splints is…
Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS)
Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is the most common cause of shin splints. It is thought to involve inflammation of the upper layer of tissue covering the bone. It occurs when excess pressure is exerted on the tibia or when unusual forces go through the tibia, for example if you roll your foot excessively while running.
MTSS results following frequent and intense periods of exercise, particularly if your body is not used to this.
In particular, long distance running and sports which involve repeatedly stopping and starting (e.g. tennis, basketball) particularly predispose to MTSS. For regular runners, shin splints can also arise when you have recently increased the distance and/or pace at which you run.
Activities such as these can result in substantial stress on the legs and can result in damage to the bones and soft tissue surrounding them, especially if they are carried out on hard ground. The pain associated with this particular cause of shin splints tends to occur in both legs at the same time and may take days to weeks to subside.
Basketball players are especially at risk of developing shin splints, due to extreme running and jumping involved in the sport
Treatment of Shin Splints
The most important part of treatment is rest. Stopping the activity which causes the pain for at least 2 weeks is extremely important. This does not mean you cannot exercise during this time but you should try and do activities which put less strain on your shins, such as swimming, yoga, cross-training or cycling.
After your two-week rest period, it is good to try and run on softer ground (such as a park) and reduce the distance and intensity of your run to 50% of what it was previously. You can gradually increase this over 3 to 6 weeks.
Making sure you do a proper warm up and stretch after exercise is also very important.
Stretching after exercise is essential to prevent injury
Making sure you have good, supportive running shoes can be key to dealing with shin splints. It is advisable to purchase your running shoes from a specialist running shop, where they will be best suited to advise you as to the type of shoes you need.
If you have trouble with your foot rolling inwards excessively, you may need orthotics (shoe inserts) to make sure your foot stays in a good position while running.
If you are still experiencing difficulty with shin splints despite these measures, it is recommended to visit a podiatrist where they may be able to give you further insight into why you are experience shin splints.
You may also benefit from physiotherapy.
Pain Relief For Shin Splints
You can relieve the pain of shin splints by:
- Holding an ice pack against your shins
- Taking over the counter painkillers (such as paracetamol and ibuprofen)
- Stretching the muscles in your calf and at the front of your leg
When To See A Doctor
You should seek immediate medical help if:
- The pain is severe and following a fall/accident
- There is worsening swelling
- There is persistent pain during rest
- Your shins are hot and inflamed
Otherwise, if your symptoms do not improve despite these above mentioned measures, it is worth visiting your GP surgery or private doctor, who can advise further, and help to exclude other possible causes of pain in your shins. As always, with eight private clinics across central London, we can help you out when you’re in need of a “GP near me“.