When asked about shin splints, athletes of all ages may not know exactly what causes them, but most know of the pain they cause.
“I simply couldn’t run,” Diipali Figgles, a freshman political science major, said. Figgles runs leisurely in her free time.
“It got to the point where my coach told me not to practice so I could play in games,” Anna Scholl, a junior English and communications major and member of the women’s lacrosse team, said. “My doctor told me to simply rest.”
Shin splints are common in athletes because of the physical wear and tear they put their legs through. But what exactly are they?
“The correct anatomical term for shin splints is periostitis,” podiatrist Dr. Richard Blake said. “Shin Splints is an irritation to the bone lining called the periosteum due to abnormal muscle pull.”
The biggest cause of this muscle pull, it seems, is running.
“Shin splints can occur in anyone who runs,” trainer Jen Langley said.
Langley suggests that a change in surface can trigger this leg injury.
“Going from a treadmill, to a track, to a hard surface such as pavement is definitely a cause because it is hard for a runner to make the adjustments,” Langley said.
Shin splints can also be caused by the way a runner’s feet strike the ground. Running on either your toes or heels frequently can result in a muscle pull. The more serious shin splints, however, are caused by the inner or outer edges of the sole bearing the body’s weight during running or even walking.
“A runner who abnormally pronates his foot has too much eversion of the foot and ankle,” Dr. Blake said.
Langley’s treatment includes 48 to 72 hours of exercises and stretches, as soon as diagnosed.
Outside of the 72 hour period, she has to depend on patient feedback alone to determine whether or not to continue any treatments. Even with the exercises and rest, sometimes the condition still lingers for months or even years.
“I would say I have been recovering from shin splints for about four years now,” Figgles said. But she also admits that she has not always taken the proper amount of rest time before running again. “Runners will run, even when it hurts.”
When it is decided that further treatment is necessary, Langley usually hands things off to a podiatrist.
“Shin splints are very curable, but the cause must to identified and reversed,” Blake said. “Sometimes, this can take simple measures like changing to a new from an older shoe, and sometimes, it can take months to find and reverse the cause.”
Blake’s treatments usually consist of strengthening and stretching the area he believes caused the problem. The use of Advil and ice are keys for a patient looking for fast relief. For long term effects, however, orthotics, or inserts for shoes of any kind, will correct the foot alignment.
Blake and Langley both agree, early treatment is a must.
“If the shin splints progress into stress fractures, expect six to eight weeks on the sidelines,” Langley said.