Shin splints are another one of those overuse injuries that plague runners and people who maintain a dynamic walking program. The discomfort of shin splints is caused by inflammation of the posterior peroneal tendon located in the outer part of the front of the leg. The actual area of pain is usually quite small. In the early stages the pain may only be a dull ache, but if overuse continues the pain can increase and may become so intense that you might choose to give up your activity. The pain may come and go during the workout, disappearing then reappearing at the end of exercise.
Like many of the injuries associated with overuse, shin splints seem to be caused by sudden increases in frequency, duration and intensity of workouts. This type of muscle use is generally typified by the motion of pivoting the foot toward the lower leg. Pain can increase if the athlete has a greater likelihood of rolling the foot inward on the arch, which places added stress on the ankles as well.
Diagnosis of shin splints occurs with careful examination to determine the exact location of pain. X-rays or an MRI may be indicated to rule out a possible stress fracture.
There used to be two recommended treatment options for shin splints, neither of which met with great success. Both the “total rest” (unacceptable to most athletes) and the “run through it” approach (which led to worsening of the injury and increased pain) have given way to a more practical course of treatment called relative rest. The objective of this technique is to allow the athlete to return to pre-injury activity by reducing and changing the workout to maintain fitness, but eliminating the aggravating factors. This might include:
- 50% reduction in activity both distance and intensity
- Changing the activity to include bicycling and pool running
- Gradual return and increase to pre injury activity over 3-6 weeks
- Change running or walking surface to level and soft terrain. Try out trails!
- NSAIDs and ice or cold packs to reduce inflammation
- Carefully selected shoes and possibly orthotics
- Strengthening and stretching exercises
The severity of the injury is going to determine the exact course of the treatment we develop for you. Don’t rush your recovery. More often than not it will set you back and prolong recuperation.
If you have symptoms of shin splints, contact us at the Hillsboro office at (503) 648-1713, the Newberg office at (503) 538-0466 or the Beaverton office at (503) 292-9252. Don’t ignore the injury. We can evaluate your injury and with your cooperation get you back in peak form.
K.G. Gauntt, DPM