he pain caused by the overuse of the shinbone, which is the large front bone in the lower leg, is known as a shin splint. Shin splints are usually characterized by pain in the inner part of the shin bone or the tibia. Shin splints are also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). This condition can either have a gradual onset or could develop quickly due to a painful injury. It results when muscles, tendons, and bone tissues become overworked. Shin splints commonly occur in people who regularly take part in strenuous physical activities and sports such as basketball, tennis, soccer, or running. Athletes who have recently changed or intensified their training routines are also more prone to developing shin splints.
What causes shin splints?
Shin splints typically occur when runners suddenly increase the speed and distance of their runs. Overtraining in any sport or excessive running both increases the strain on your muscles and underlying bones such as the shin bones. In other words, excessive amounts of strain on the shin bones and on the tissues attaching the shin bone to the muscles surrounding it cause the pain, which is a characteristic of shin splints. The increase in force causes the muscles to swell up against the bone, which leads to pain and inflammation. Beginning runners have the highest risk of developing shin splits because they are not used to the impact that running has on their muscles and joints.
Another cause of shin splints is known to be stress reactions to fractures in the bone. Minute cracks during bone fractures can usually heal if the body is given enough time to heal, but in cases when the body doesn’t get adequate rest to recover, the tiny cracks can develop into complete fractures or stress fractures.
Some other causes of shin splints include:
- An anatomic abnormality, which could include the flat foot syndrome
- Weak muscles in the thigh or buttocks
- Improper training routines (athletes and beginner runners are most likely to suffer from shin splints)
- Lack of flexibility
Treatment with the RICE Method
While plenty of rest is recommended to be the best method to treat shin splints, the RICE method is used as a treatment method for controlling pain and inflammation. The initial and best treatment for someone who has shin splints or for someone who has a loved one with shin splints is the RICE method. This method speeds up the body’s natural healing process and makes it easier for a person who has shin splints. Even with the RICE method to help you recover, returning to activity post treatment should be done gradually and slowly without any weight-bearing activity until you are completely pain-free.
The RICE method is one of the best treatments available for shin splints. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Rest your body and your muscles. Shin splints are a result of excessive training or exercising to a level higher than your body is able to handle. Hence, one of the best ways to treat your shin splints is by resting for a few days until the pain subsides and in some cases, until the pain completely goes away. This will ensure that your body heals faster while also helping you deal with the pain and inflammation. When you have shin splints, continuing to run, exercise, or engage in moderate or strenuous physical activity will do more damage and may worsen your condition. Doing physical activities will further cause a worsening of the pain and increase in inflammation, making your recovery very slow.
Ice is a useful component when treating any injury, especially if that injury is related to the muscles or the bone. The reason is that it has properties that help bring down inflammation and relieve pain. Icing the injury also increases the flow of blood. Such increase in the flow of blood reduces swelling, and thus, heals the injury faster.
To treat shin splints using ice, freeze a cup of water and apply it onto the shin bone. This will help reduce the inflammation and swelling in the area and also decrease pain. Never apply ice directly on your skin. Always wrap the ice in a piece of cloth or towel before application.
Apply the ice for at least 10 minutes every 3 to 4 hours every day until the pain and discomfort are completely gone.
Compression helps in limiting the swelling and damage.
Use a compression sleeve or stocking to compress the muscles over the shin bone. This minimizes movement and supports the muscle. If you do not have a compression sleeve or stocking, you can take a small towel or ace bandage and wrap it around your shins. Make sure to tie the bandage a bit loosely because a tightly tied bandage will cut the blood flow. This will further limit the blood flow to the injured area, thereby delaying recovery.
Elevation can help treat swelling and inflammation due to shin splints through the principle of gravity.
After bandaging your leg, lie back and elevate it using a pillow or some support to reduce stress on the muscles. Keep your leg elevated for at least 10 minutes. Doing so will improve blood circulation as well as recovery. It may also help reduce the recurrence of future shin splints.
Athletes, runners, and sportsmen/women do not always like to rest for long periods of time, and hence, find it difficult to follow the RICE method to treat shin splints. However, it is important to keep in mind that if you continue to exercise or train despite the injury and pain, then it will do more damage to your already overexerted muscles and bones. Moreover, it can cause permanent damage that could hamper your recovery and keep you away from doing even simple and normal physical activities for an extended amount of time.
Remember to use the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method for a quicker recovery from shin splints, so that you can hit the road and start running tracks again soon!