Shin Splints and Athletic Activity
Shin splints is a generic terms used for several symptoms of lower leg pain.
Indicators: Generally, “shin splints” is a name given to lower leg pain, especially pain over the front or inside part of the shinbone or tibia. This pain is often due to micro-tearing and inflammation of the surrounding tissues. Initially the athlete may complain of a dull aching pain that occurs after a sudden increase in activity or exercise, and/or experiencing a sudden change in running surface, such as training on grass, then going to concrete. Improper shoes, poor arch support, muscular imbalance, and poor running technique may also contribute to the injury. Initially this pain occurs at the beginning of the practice and disappears as the athlete warms up. The pain may return again hours after practice is finished.
NOTE: There is always a possibility that “shin splint” pain can actually be due to a stress fracture or another injury called a compartment syndrome. If conservative treatment is not effective, send the athlete to a physician.
Prevention: As a coach or parent, there are several preventative measures you can take to limit the onset of shin splints or use if initial lower leg pain is detected:
- 1. Start out the beginning of the season with limited jumping and running activity, especially if the athletes have not been very active prior to the sport season.
2. Make sure athletes wear appropriate shoes for the sport.
3. Make sure athletic shoes have a good arch support and cushion.
4. Include a warm-up and cool-down period during practice, with flexibility exercises as part of the routine, especially during cool-down (quadriceps; hamstring; calf).
Whatever method you use to stretch the calf, make sure to stretch the calf in two positions: (1) the leg remains straight with the heel in contact with the floor, and (2) the knee remains slightly bent with the heel in contact with the floor. These two positions will allow all muscles (and Achilles tendon) of the calf to be properly stretched.
- 5. Be firm on proper running and jumping techniques (heel to toe gait).
6. Several simple exercises can be included to help prevent muscular imbalance:
- Toe crunches: Crunch up a towel; pick up marbles or Q-Tips®, etc., to help enhance the arches of the foot.
- Ankle Ups: With a partner as resistance, using a sport cord, or using a heavy bag of sand/weight, work the ankle up, towards the body using 10- 30 repetitions. Example: A sports cord is attached to a table leg, near the floor, while the other end is secured to your shoe. While sitting with your ankle in a pointed position, pull your ankle back towards your body against resistance of the cord, without bending your leg. Then allow your ankle to slowly go back to a pointed position and begin again. Do this until the muscle near your shinbone becomes tired. Eventually you will be able to do this exercise many times in a row - up to 30 times.
You can also do this exercise while sitting in a chair. Just secure a weighted object on your foot. Then continue to go from a pointed foot (plantar flexion) to brining your foot up towards your body (dorsi flexion).
- Ankle In and Outs: Using the same procedure described above with a sport cord, move the ankle in and out against resistance with the sport cord secured to the left of your foot, then move the ankle in and out when the sport cord is secured to the right of your foot. Ankle In and Outs can also be accomplished using a partner. Remember to only move your ankle, not your leg. This exercise works the muscles found along the right and left sections of the lower leg.
- 7. Apply ICE to the lower leg for approximately 20 minutes if your athlete complains of lower leg pain or discomfort.
8. If pain persists even after days of rest, ice and exercise treatments, a trip to the doctor is advised.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
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