A Rundown on Shin Splints

They're the byproduct of too much exercise, too soon

WEDNESDAY, April 23, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Vows to exercise spring eternal this time of year, as many people set out to shed the extra pounds they gained during winter.

But if jogging is your workout of choice and you overdo it, your attempt to get fit could end in pain and frustration when you contract a nasty case of shin splints.

The enemy of marathon runners, fitness junkies, even weekend warriors, shin splints occur when people dive back into exercise and try to do too much too soon.

They occur most commonly when either tendons -- the tough bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone -- or the lining of the shin bone become inflamed after absorbing too much impact during strenuous exercise.

Exercise most likely to produce shin splints includes running on hard surfaces and those sports in which a lot of jumping is involved.

The best way to deal with shin splints is to avoid them altogether by gradually ramping up your exercise regimen to avoid overstress, says Dr. Henry Goitz, chief of sports medicine for the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo.

You also should stretch before any exercise and use weight training to ensure that the muscles are fit enough to absorb stress that could injure the tendons or bone, he says.

"The greater the demand you want to place on your body, the greater the preparation you want to employ," Goitz says. "You don't want to run a marathon day one. Listen to your body. Gradually increase the distance."

You also might want to consider varying your exercise routine to keep from falling into a repetitive pattern that could lead to shin splints.

"It's usually overuse that causes them," says Lori DeRosia, head fitness coach of the Courthouse Athletic Club in Salem, Ore. "When you're doing the same thing over and over, that's when you're more likely to get them."

DeRosia suffered from shin splints once herself. "They hurt like hell," she says. "It was just from overtraining, and I was teaching too many exercise classes." She found that ibuprofen and stretching were her personal keys to beating them back.

DeRosia says if she sees someone running six days a week, "I tell them to get on the bike or something. Get in the water. Try something different."

If you believe you have developed shin splints, the first thing you should do is see your doctor to make sure you don't actually have a stress fracture. These tiny, almost invisible breaks in the bone can heal with enough rest, but they must be detected or they could lead to a full-blown fracture.

Once you're sure that you are suffering from true shin splints, the worst thing you can do is take it easy, wait for the pain to go away and then start back up with your routine, Goitz says.

"You can't just take time off and expect everything to go away," he says. "When you pick up where you left off, so too will the shin splints."

Goitz recommends that you first attack the pain by taking anti-inflammation medications like aspirin or ibuprofen.

You then should enter into a low-impact regimen of stretching and weight training, to prepare your leg muscles to absorb more shock once you are ready to restart your exercise regime.

"While you're giving the bone a chance to rest, the muscle should be strengthened," Goitz says. "I can guarantee that if you don't do that, all those symptoms will come back."

Other tips for avoiding shin splints from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons include:

  • Purchasing running shoes that provide good shock absorption, stability and cushioning to the foot.
  • Replacing running shoes every nine to 12 months, particularly if you run up to 10 miles per week. Sixty percent of a shoe's shock absorption is lost after 250 to 500 miles of use.
  • Running on a clear, smooth, even and reasonably soft surface. Avoid running on hills, which will increase stress on the ankle and foot.

More information

To learn more about shin splints and treating them, visit Rice University or the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

SOURCES: Henry Goitz, M.D., chief of sports medicine, Medical College of Ohio, Toledo; Lori DeRosia, head fitness coach, Courthouse Athletic Club, Salem, Ore.
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