Shin splints are an extremely common complaint in athletes who frequently do high-impact exercises, such as running, basketball or gymnastics. “Shin splints” is not a single condition, but the term used colloquially to describe a certain kind of pain caused by several different injuries. The pain of shin splints occurs along the shin bone, usually on the inside (medial) edge but sometimes feeling like it is directly behind the shin bone as well. Shin splints are an overuse injury that can develop gradually as a person exercises. The pain gets worse during activity and better during rest, but severe cases can hurt while a person is resting.
The main cause of shin splints is an increase in running distance or workout intensity, especially if this is a sudden increase. However, there are also some technique considerations that can lead to the development of shin splints. Wearing poorly-fitting or worn-out shoes can lead to the development of shin splints. If you are naturally flat-footed, you are more likely to develop shin splints because of the angle at which your feet hit the ground when you run. Shoes with good arch support or orthopedic inserts can help prevent this from happening. Running on a flat surface instead of a tilted or uneven surface is better for your shins. If your lower leg muscles or Achilles tendons are too tense, or if your ankle muscles are weak, you are more likely to develop shin splints during exercise.
Shin splints can involve several different types of injuries, including muscle strain, tendonitis and stress fractures of the tibia (shin bone) itself. Muscle strain occurs when a muscle is overstretched or torn. Muscle strain can usually heal on its own fairly quickly as long as the activity that is hurting the muscle is stopped. Tendonitis is inflammation of tendons, which connect muscles to bones. In addition to pain that radiates up to the shin, tendonitis can sometimes make it more difficult to move the ankle or knee joints if there is pain and swelling. Stress fractures are small cracks that form in the shin bone because of the excess forces that put stress on the shin bone during high impact exercises. Unlike an acute bone fracture, the pain from stress fractures is not usually incapacitating, but it can cause a lot of soreness and dull pain when you are exercising.
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