Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome, refers to the pain you may feel in the area around your shin bone, located at the front of your lower leg. The area around your shin, tendons, muscles or bone tissue may become inflamed and cause pain.
Shin splints are a common ailment in the sporting world, particularly for runners and gymnasts. They are also common in military personnel because of high-intensity training and also dancers. Basically, anyone who trains with a higher intensity, or steps up the intensity of their training, is susceptible to shin splints.
How Long Do Shin Splints Last?
If you take good care of it, a shin splint does not last that long, but if you are reckless and start exercising again, even while your lower leg area is still painful, you can make your situation worse and prolong it. Shin splints usually go away in about 3 to 6 months. Read on to find out more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of shin splints.
The direct cause of shin splints is pushing your boundaries. Your leg muscles can only take a certain amount of daily activity, especially if you are new to the activity. Here are some of the most common causes of shin splints:
- Running, especially high-intensity running such as uphill running, is dangerous if you are not cautious. If you are not used to sprinting, maybe start out slow and build up your pace.
- If you increase the frequency and duration of your training routines too fast, you can get shin splints. Only increase your routine up to 10% at a time. Also, try to avoid adding more training days and skipping rest days.
- Activities that require a lot of stopping and going, such as playing basketball, dancing and military training, can also be quite problematic.
Almost everyone who performs lower leg exercises is at risk; however, there are some important factors that can contribute to the issue. You are at a higher risk of shin splints:
- If you wear uncomfortable shoes which don’t fit well, or if you wear the same pair for too long. In general, a pair of shoes might only be good for about 350 miles (500 km) of running, after which they lose their shock absorption.
- If you have flat feet or stiff foot arches – now you see why people with flat feet can’t join the army.
- If you train or run on rough terrain.
The pain on the front part of your shin can be sharp or dull. If it continues, it may turn into a stress reaction or a stress fraction. Your leg can also become swollen.
Here we are going to break the symptoms into two groups, symptoms for initial and severe shin splints:
- If you’ve just developed shin splints, you may feel pain in either or both of your lower legs. You may feel pain at the front of your shin. The pain may get more intense during and after your exercise. You might feel relief when you’re resting after finishing your exercise.
- In the case of severe shin splints, you might feel pain even when you are not using your legs. If the pain continues, it might be getting worse and your leg might become swollen.
Usually, shin splints do not require immediate medical attention and you might be able to recognize it on your own. In case you are wondering how long do shin splints last, it is always best to see a doctor. The doctor will perform a physical exam, and if necessary, order an X-ray scan just to be sure it is not a stress fracture. You should definitely visit your doctor if:
- The swelling in your legs worsens
- You feel constant pain even after treating it with ice and resting for a few weeks.
- Your shin is inflamed.
Most of the time, you can treat shin splints on your own using these simple steps:
- Resting is crucial. Discontinue any exercises that cause you pain. Walking is great because it is not tiring, but you can also add some other low-impact activities like cycling or swimming. This is called cross-training and it can be very effective.
- Ice is your ally. Apply it to the sore shin at least several times a day, in intervals of about 15 minutes. You can keep doing this until the pain is gone. Usually, a few days are enough.
- Finally, if necessary, you can take some OTC pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. Keep in mind they might cause side effects. Ask your doctor about the dosage if you’re not sure.
We have already mentioned some of the methods for preventing shin splints, such as wearing comfortable and durable shoes. You can also add proper arch support and shock-absorbing insoles. It is best to consult your physical therapist regarding this. Do not overdo your exercise and remember to stretch before and after.
If you are visiting a physical therapist, ask him about leg strengthening exercises. Building up your leg muscles makes exercising easier and adds resistance to all sorts of aches and pains.
Avoid working out in rough terrain for extended periods of time, e.g. running uphill, or running on concrete; or playing tennis on a clay surface. This adds difficulty to your training and if you overestimate yourself, you could end up in a world of hurt. Always be on the side of conservative and increase your workout slowly.
Shin splints can be a very serious problem, especially they are not treated in time. The most important of all is to get enough rest and take a break from activities which caused the problem in the first place. If resting and icing do not seem to work, you know it is time to call the doctor.
Of course, it is always better to prevent the ailment, so take care of your body and do not overstrain yourself. Testing your limits can do more harm than good. Whatever exercise you perform, do not forget to stretch!