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    What are shin splints?

    February 23, 2024 5 min read

    What are shin splints?

    IMAGE BY @peachrunner26.2

    We've all heard the term and some of us have even felt the term: Shin Splints. But what exactly are they? What causes them? What are shin splints symptoms? Why do some people get shin splints when others don't? And, perhaps most importantly, how to prevent shin splints?


    What are Shin Splints? What are shin splints symptoms?

    According to Columbia Orthopedics, "shin splints" is the common term for the more medical diagnosis or term medial tibial stress syndrome. The most prominent symptom of medial tibial stress syndrome aka "shin splints" is pain itself. Although shin splints are known as a condition that affects runners, the Mayo Clinic explains: "Shin splints are common in runners, dancers and military recruits."

    Not only is the term common, but also the condition is common! OrthoInfo explains that shin splints are a common exercise-related problem, so there's no need to panic if you experience shin splints. OrthoInfo recommends "simple measures can relieve the pain of shin splints. Rest, ice, and stretching often help. Taking care not to overdo your exercise routine will help prevent shin splints from coming back."

    Shin splints is not considered a disease, but can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider and according to Johns Hopkins University Medicine, to diagnose shin splints, often an X-ray will be needed. The pain along the shinbone is what is most commonly referred to when "shin splints" is mentioned. However the consensus is that this pain can vary quite a lot from person to person- in intensity as well as where the pain is located along the shin bone. Additionally the pain can vary throughout the type and duration of activity so there are quite a few variables when it comes to shin splints and the symptoms are not always uniform.

    The Mayo Clinic also notes that this shin splint pain can be associated with tenderness, soreness and mild swelling in the lower leg.

    Finally, Penn Medicine brings up an interesting point, which is that the pain associated with shin splints is actually caused by "small tears and inflammation in the muscles, tendons and bone tissue around your shin." Yikes! But, don't worry, micro-tears during vigorous exercise is actually not a bad thing. However addressing any pain at the start (before it becomes a major tear or a major problem) is always a good idea so join us as we dive deeper into shin splints to understand this condition better.


    What Causes Shin Splints?

    Again, Columbia Orthopedics attributes shin splints to overuse and explains that the condition is actually more common in females over male athletes, stating: "overuse and occurs in athletes who participate in repetitive activities, especially running and jumping. The condition can also develop in athletes who have suddenly increased the duration or intensity of their training. It is quite common and occurs more often in females."

    The Mayo Clinic also touts repetition as a factor in the cause for shin splints, explaining that "repetitive stress" on the "shinbone and the connective tissues" is a major cause, which makes sense that runners and distance runners would suffer from this issue as having a running routine is all about consistent running. 

    OrthoInfo gets more technical with the cause of shin splints, explaining: "In general, shin splints develop when the muscle and bone tissue (periosteum) in the leg become overworked by repetitive activity.

    Shin splints often occur after sudden changes in physical activity. These can be changes in frequency, such as increasing the number of days you exercise each week. Changes in duration and intensity, such as running longer distances or on hills, can also cause shin splints."


    Why do some people get shin splints and others don't?

    Of course, just being a runner alone is a factor to be at risk for shin splints, and as we've mentioned before being female is another factor that increases the likelihood of experiencing shin splints. Another shin splints contributing factor noted by the Mayo Clinic is the structure of the foot itself. Feet that are shaped more flatly aka "flat feet" OR those with a higher interior arch or "high arches" are more at risk to experience shin splints, so it appears that those with a foot shape in the middle of this spectrum may fare better! Interesting!


    How to prevent shin splints? How to treat shin splints?

    We're not doctors or medical professionals, but we can share what some outlets like OrthoInfo recommend! They share 7 easy items that can help with relieving the pain of shin splints:

    "Rest. Because shin splints are typically caused by overuse, standard treatment includes several weeks of rest from the activity that caused the pain. Lower impact types of aerobic activity can be substituted during your recovery, such as swimming, using a stationary bike, or an elliptical trainer.

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen reduce pain and swelling.

    Ice. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.

    Compression. Wearing an elastic compression bandage may prevent additional swelling.

    Flexibility exercises. Stretching your lower leg muscles may make your shins feel better.

    Supportive shoes. Wearing shoes with good cushioning during daily activities will help reduce stress in your shins.

    Orthotics. People who have flat feet or recurrent problems with shin splints may benefit from orthotics. Shoe inserts can help align and stabilize your foot and ankle, taking stress off of your lower leg. Orthotics can be custom-made for your foot, or purchased 'off the shelf'."

    John's Hopkins University Medicine recommends ceasing exercise, as a treatment for shin splints, we all know but that isn't always an option for runners because running is an important part of our lives! Therefore, other options like stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, heat or cold therapies, and choosing running shoes with special support for your foot.


    How can compression help with shin splints?

    We all know compression has immense benefits for athletes (and everyone)! From helping improve blood flow to decreasing swelling, compression is a great tool for those experiencing shin splints issues. Even WebMD recommends " compression bandage or sock may help if you have swelling." But we can do one better, our Compression Leg Sleeves are TARGETED to compress where you need it, the calf and shin! 

    Leg sleeves are a great tool for boosting circulation and dodging shin splints, as well as recovering from the pain of shin splints. But why do calf compression sleeves help with shin splints? In addition to the other elements that these many medical outlets mentioned like rest and stretching, targeting compression to the shin and calf area can help with blood flow to the area where the issue is. Pain or swelling can also be treated with compression. So many marathoners wear compression sleeves and socks while running not only because it feels good, helps to prevent the shin splints from occurring in the first place, and looks COOL, but also the support of a compression sleeve or sock can actually prevent the micro-tearing that can add to the pain. Convinced yet? You should be! Check out all of our compression favorites to help with shin splints below!






    *None of the above article should be taken as medical advice. Always consult with a physician before undertaking any type of therapy, exercise, or health regimine. 


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