Dr. Dollinger: Shin Splints

With warmer weather finally appearing, these first few weeks of spring have people giddy to get outside and get active again. For many runners, the temptation is to go from 0 to 60 much too quickly after being fairly inactive for the winter. For many, this leads to an increase in cases of annoying and painful shin splints.

Shin splints are simply a stress problem: the muscles and tendons along the inside of the tibia bone in your shin become inflamed, which also causes the periosteum (a membrane that lines the outside of the bone) to become inflamed, which can be fairly painful, since there are a lot of nerve endings in the periosteum. This pain can be sharp or dull and can occur during or after physical activity. Chronic shin splints can actually cause stress fractures in the tibia. Even worse, continued exercise beyond safe limits can lead to chronic exertional compartment syndrome, which may require surgery. Clearly, shin splints need to be taken seriously.

Immediate treatment of shin splints includes taking ibuprofen or aspirin, rest, and ice for 20 minutes. In addition to short-term treatment, it is best to avoid being overly ambitious and to go back to your physical activity very slowly and gradually. Adding in lower impact activities such as swimming or cycling, or cross-training can help you achieve a higher level of activity more quickly with a lower risk of shin splints.

So, if you have been cooped up inside for the last four months and then decide to go for a 5-mile run, you risk getting shin splints. If you usually run flat routes and suddenly change to hilly routes, you are at risk. If you have either flat feet or very high arches, you are at risk. And please do not run barefoot. Although many claim it is more natural for a human to run barefoot, most of us go running on man-made surfaces, like roads and sidewalks, where there may be debris or broken glass. These surfaces are much too hard and have too much impact on bare feet, as opposed to a dirt ground or grassy meadow. Besides, most of us have been wearing shoes from a very young age, so our feet are more adapted to shoes at this point in our lives.

Thankfully, it is relatively easy to keep shin splints at bay. Always warm up and stretch before and after exercise. Be sure to buy the right kind of shoe for your activity and replace your shoes regularly, before the support is worn out. If you are at a high level of exercise, have two pairs of shoes, alternating between them. If you have flat feet or high arches, wear orthotics. Lastly, slowly and gradually increase the length of time and extent of your exercise. It’s better to run for only a modest amount at first, as opposed to running too much and finding yourself right back on the couch, which is the last place you would want to be for these first weeks of spring.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

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