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Shin Splints: Prevention and Treatment

Shin splints can be a little sneaky. When you first notice some tenderness or soreness on the inside of a lower leg, you might think it will be gone after a good night’s sleep. In the morning, however, it’s still there.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “shin splints” is a catchall term for pain that occurs along the large bone located in the front part of your lower leg. It’s often accompanied by mild swelling and is the result of too much stress on the shinbone and surrounding connective tissues.

While runners frequently experience this condition, you could also be at risk for it if you have flat arches or your feet tend to roll inward when you run. If you fit into either category, there are a number of things you can do to prevent a shin split:

1. Pick the correct shoes. Don’t jog out of the house wearing loafers. If you’re a regular runner, you’ll need to get a new pair of shoes every 350 to 500 miles.

2. Try arch supports. They’re particularly helpful if you suffer from flat arches. They can help avoid the pain caused by shin splints.

3. Consider low-impact activities. Devote at least part of your exercise time to lower-impact activities. Good ones are swimming, biking or walking. Use a graduated schedule whenever you start a new activity as far as duration and intensity.

4. Start strength training. You can start with toe raises to strengthen your shins. Move to holding progressively more weight. Leg presses help many individuals.

5. Take breaks. It’s important to remember to rest as soon as you experience any sign of shin pain.

Many of the treatments for shin splits involve self-care. Among them:

1. Rest. You don’t need to become a couch potato. As you’re recovering, you can consider low-impact exercises like biking, swimming or water running. If you have a limp, you will probably want to use crutches until you can walk comfortably on your own. Be sure to avoid any physical movements that result in pain, swelling or even discomfort.

2. Apply ice. Put ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables on your shin area four to eight times a day for several days. Make sure to wrap them in a small towel and apply them for 15 to 20 minutes per session.

3. Elevate your leg. To minimize swelling, elevate your leg above heart level, particularly at night. Consider using a compression sleeve or elastic stocking, but loosen any wrap if the pain gets worse, you see swelling, or you experience numbness.

4. Use over-the-counter pain meds. Ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), aspirin, and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can effectively cut the amount of pain.

5. Pick the right shoes. Ask your doctor for a recommendation of a shoe good for your type of foot, stride, and activity.

6. Try arch supports. You can buy them off the shelf in various sizes or purchase custom supports made from a cast of your foot. They help cushion and reduce the amount of stress that reaches your shinbones.

Once you experience a shin split, be careful to reintroduce your normal daily activities gradually. Otherwise, you might be in for even more pain.

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