By: Dr. Alyssa Musgrove
Have you ever experienced pain in the front of your lower leg after vigorous
physical activity? If so, you may have experienced shin splints, a common injury that
occurs between the knee and ankle.
While not a serious condition, shin splints can be very painful and can reoccur.
Shin splints may start out as a muscle ache and then progress into sharp, shooting
pains accompanied by swelling. The pain is usually located on the front of the lower leg,
along the outside or inside of the shin. The pain begins when you perform weight-
bearing physical activity and worsens after exercising is complete. In severe cases, any
weight-bearing activity, such as standing or walking, will make the lower leg throb or
The pain associated with shin splints results from an excessive amount of force on the
shin bone, muscles and tissues that attach to the surrounding area. The force causes
inflammation and swelling of the tissues, which increases the pressure leading to pain.
Common causes of shin splints include:
beginning a new exercise routine
running with bad form
improper alignment of the feet (i.e. fallen arches, overpronation, supination, flat
not allowing appropriate recovery time running on hard surfaces, such as pavement
running on unstable terrain or uneven surfaces
activity that involves going uphill or downhill
wearing new sneakers too long
wearing worn-out sneakers
improper warm-up techniques before activity
lack of flexibility or mobility
not properly stretching after activity
sudden change in physical activity
a previous injury that healed incorrectly
participating in sports that have fast stops and starts, such as soccer, tennis, basketball, racquetball and dancing
Shin splints can also be caused by repetitive stress placed on connective tissues, as
can happen with over-training. If the root cause of your pain is not addressed, the pain
can reappear quickly.
There are some steps you can take at home to help ease the discomfort of shin
splints. Since the injury is caused by activity, rest is always the most important step.
Rest allows the body time to recover and can make a huge difference. Rest does not mean being inactive and idle all day. Rather, just decrease the intensity and duration of your activity to allow your legs time to heal.
Ice or cold compresses placed directly on the problematic area can reduce the swelling
and help numb the pain. Apply for 10 to 20 minutes at a time and repeat 3-5 times for
the first few days. Elevate the legs for additional healing.
To prevent shin splints – or keep them from reoccurring – follow these steps:
1) Focus on proper tissue recovery after activity. Foam rolling, massage and
stretching the calves can all be helpful. To foam roll the calf muscles, place the
foam roller on the floor. Place the lower part of your leg on top of the foam roller,
and move the leg back and forth and side to side, for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat 5
to 10 minutes daily.
2) Wear supportive shoes. Some sneakers support your feet and shins more than
3) Replace your shoes once they are worn out, typically every 350 to 500 miles.
4) Consider adding arch support. Insoles are a great addition that can properly
support your feet. Be sure to talk to a professional who specializes in measuring
and assessing feet and arches.
5) Wear compression socks or compression wraps. Both can be helpful in
supporting the soft tissue surrounding the shin.
6) Incorporate cross-training. Perform multiple types of exercise each week, rather
than continually performing the same activity with the same force. This helps
reduce the amount of repetitive stress on your legs, builds strength in other areas
and takes pressure off your shins. For example, if you are a runner, try breaking
up your weekly activity by adding a day or two of yoga, TRX, biking, swimming or
7) Warm up prior to activity and perform proper stretching before, after and in
between workouts – especially focusing on the glutes, IT bands and calves.
8) Do not exercise through the pain.
9) Ensure you maintain proper form when exercising.
Some choose to self-diagnose shin splints, but it is always advised to see a doctor or
physical therapist. They can take a proper case history, perform a physical exam and
take an x-ray in order to prescribe the appropriate treatment and rule out more serious
injuries that can mimic shin splints, such as a stress fracture.
Pathways to Healing specializes in holistic chiropractic care. Dr. Alyssa Musgrove draws on a variety of
techniques, including chiropractic, kinesiology, nutrition, food allergy testing and lifestyle counseling to
assist clients in achieving optimal health and wellness in one setting. Pathways to Healing is located at
1022 Founders Row, Lake Oconee Village, Greensboro. The office can be reached at 706-454-2040.