Shin Splints - Causes and How to Prevent

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Shin splints occur in up to 13.1% of all runners. Sixty-percent of those presented with this complaint have errors in training.

By Dr. Susan Ott Contributing Writer

Shin Splints: What are they? What causes them?

Shin splints have become a wastebasket term for leg or shin pain. Known in medical lore as medialtibial stress syndrome (MTSS) shin splints is basically a nonspecific term used to describe exertional lower leg pain from almost any cause.

Shin splints occur in up to 13.1% of all runners. Sixty-percent of those presented with this complaint have errors in training. Most commonly symptoms occur after a rapid increase in training of duration, intensity, increased hill training or frequency of training. Changes in training surface and shoe problems — either worn out shoes, inappropriate shoe wear or a change in shoe wear can also be to blame. Poor technique and warm up, poor calf flexibility and excessive foot pronation can also be contributing factors.

Pain In the Bone
So, what causes the pain? The pain is most likely boney in origin. Some experts say the pain in the shins is the inflammation of the covering of the bone. This may be caused by excessive traction by the muscles. Athletes with shin splints were studied and found to have decreased bone mineral density (BMD) compared to age matched controls. Experts found less bone mineral (calcium) in the bone.

Preventing The Pain
So what do you do when you have shin splints? First look at your training. Have you just changed your program in some way that could cause an injury? Second look at your shoes. Are they worn out? Third look at your body. Are your calves tight as can be? Are you overpronating? Where is the pain? The basic treatment for shin splints is relative rest, stretching, strengthening, ice massage and perhaps anti-inflammatory medication to start.

Alternative Moves
Since as triathletes cross training is built into our lives, focus on swimming and biking for a while. You could try running in the water. If these simple steps do not relieve the pain after a few weeks consider seeing a sports medicine physician. You may need to have an orthotic made especially if you are over pronating. Bracing can sometimes speed recovery. When running is resumed start at 50% of what your previous intensity and distance and increase only 10% per week. Most people recover from shin splints with conservative care and rarely is operative intervention is needed.

Dr. Susan Ott is a orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine based in Florida. Dr. Ott currently provides medical services to Florida Southern College and several local high schools. In addition she is on the national healthcare referral lists for USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming.

The information is not medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only. Please consult your own physician or health care provider about any opinions or recommendations with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.


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date: April 3, 2005

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