The never-ending winter season, believe it or not, is ending, and spring sports will be upon us soon. Along with them is the prevalence of shin pain in athletes’ lower legs. AKA, shin splints
Shin splints isn't a medical term, but it’s the one everyone uses. The problem is that shin pain can be one of three or four different medical conditions. Muscle soreness, tendinitis, stress fracture or compartment pressure are all possible causes of shin pain. These problems usually are on the front, inside or outside of the lower leg. Calf muscle and Achilles tendon on the back of the lower leg aren't considered shin-splint areas.
Almost anyone running or jumping can be susceptible to shin pain. Usually doing too much too soon, or increasing intensity of running activities on hard dry ground, or hard surface conditions can cause discomfort. Backing off somewhat, usually some ice massage or ice packs, also sometimes heat when indicated, can help the problem. If these don’t help, then a proper specific diagnosis is important. X-rays and MRI tests might be necessary to rule out a stress fracture.
Young growing bodies moving from middle school sports to high school might be doing twice the amount and intensity. If pain persists, get it evaluated. Often “intelligent rest” is needed.
What’s interesting is that almost all persistent shin problems are foot related. Both pronated flat feet and the other extreme, high arches can be foot types that aggravate and perpetuate, if not cause, shin-splint type conditions. If the complaint is “every time my son or daughter gets really into the sports season, their shins splint return,” then check out the foot mechanics.
The shin muscles and tendons act as “the brakes” to slow down the foot, ankle and lower leg coming down from a jump or hitting the ground running. If the proper stability and alignment of the foot is off, then those lower legs muscles and tendons are overused or bones are stressed. Shin splints are common in all running, jumping activities — one of the often referred to overuse injuries. Prescription in-shoe orthotics are very helpful when foot mechanics are involved. Again, most persistent and resistant shin problems are foot related.
Treatments often include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medicine and strengthening exercises. In the past I've written about stepping up your foot exercises — all of those rubber band and balance exercises work all the shin muscles. Prevent problems by doing the exercises.
Being in the proper shoes is always important. Knowing the foot type, especially in running, is also important. Sports related podiatrists, trainers and a competent running shoe store all can identify foot types. You’d be surprised how many athletes at all levels are not in properly fit shoes. Get measured!
For all you golfers and parents of all the athletes, listen to the “Sports Doctor” radio show archives on HealthyLife.net to the March 12, 2014 show for an interview with golf performance physical therapist Paul Calloway from Cantigny’s Golf Academy in Wheaton and performance trainer Shane O’Donnell of Acceleration Rehabilitation Center of Naperville.
Dr. Robert A. Weil is a sports podiatrist with an office in Aurora. Hear him on his weekly radio show from 3 to 4 p.m. every Wednesday at HealthyLife.net. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call his office at 630-898-3505.
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