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Shin splints in athletes

What are shin splints?

Shin splints is a common term that describes a series of painful conditions of the lower leg. There are many reasons why people get shin splints, but they are usually related to excessive excersise. People who are likely to have shin splints are athletes and runners. 

What is important to bear in mind in this case is that shin splints can be caused by many different factors, and in many cases they are not the root of the problem but a manifestation of something else. Relieving the pain does not necesarily mean to solve the real issue, and even if the problem is the shin itself, some methods are not useful in all situations. The real cause of the pain has to be identified by a professional, and even for them this syndrome is sometimes difficult to figure out. There are some tricks for you to explore your symptoms and get closer to an explanation of your pain, altough you should always see a specialized doctor. Untreated shin splints could lead to stress fracture of the tibia or shinbone, the main bone of the lower leg.

What are the risk factors of shin splints?

The pain that you experience when you have shin splints is due to the excess of demand on the muscles around the tibia. This overload of work can appear when you try to run or jump more than you are used to, and the muscle is not prepared to bear all of that stress. This is why shin splints are common for new athletes who are not yet trained for all of that mechanical demand. Factors that increase the mechanical stress on the lower leg also create a higher risk of shin splints. In example, running on a hard surface such as concrete or asphalt means a harder impact on each step, so it means more risk of shin splints than practicing sports on the ground.

But the reasons why you can get shin splints and shin pain when running are not only about external conditions or the amount of excersise. Sometimes, the cause is in other region of the body. Certain conditions such as muscular weakness or bad posture interfere in the natural balance and functioning of our movements. Each muscle and bone is designed to undergo certain stress and make certain efforts when we walk or run or jump. If some part of that system does not function properly, other parts have to compensate for ir by working harder than they are designed to. It's like having a coworker who is lazy or doesn't understand how to do the work. This work must be done at the end of the week, so now not only you have to do your own job but also some of his work. As a result, your are stressed and overloaded.

This is the reason why young or inexperienced athletes are more likely to have shin splints. Running is an activity that involves a lot of muscles, and if they are not all properly trained, the shin will have to make some extra effort. Another situation that implies an overloaded shin muscle is flat foot, because flat-footed people tend to have their legs slightly bent inwards and this adds more demand to the inner face of the shins.

Prevention and treatment of shin splints

Knowing the risk factors of shin splints is really helpful to prevent them. Ideally, anyone who wishes to partake in athletic activity that involves running or jumping has to make sure to excersise their whole body, so every muscle will be in shape and the shin will not have to compensate the effort and will just do its job. Another great idea to prevent injuries is to start running on soft surfaces, because they reduce the impact on the legs.

If you happen to experience shin pain, you should see a specialized doctor as soon as possible. Excersising with shin pain could worsen the condition and even lead to a stress fracture that requires months of rest. The doctor will evaluate your symptoms and run a full traumatologic analysis of your legs in order to detect some bone problem such as flat foot. The doctor will also help you identify the source of the pain, which could be the muscle, the tendons or the bone. For each case, the treatment is different.

In general terms, what helps in these cases is to stop excersising -to prevent more work overload- and to apply cold to the area, which reduces the swelling and inflammation. However, even if the pain stops, you should get your legs checked because it could have been a signal that something was -and still is- wrong.

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