For young runners, shin splints all too common
Vicki Huber Rudawsky | April 15, 2014.
Every year, at the start of spring track, coaches and trainers brace themselves for the most common complaint from their young runners – shin splints.
It is sort of an “eye roll” injury, one that is basically expected to occur and many times not taken too seriously. But the pain from shin splints is serious.
Shin splints, clinically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is very common in runners, as well as jumpers and dancers.
Shin splints can occur when an athlete has intensified his or her training routine, especially if done quickly. The muscles, tendons and the bone tissue of the lower leg become overworked with repetitive stress on the shinbone. This stress can cause a tenderness and soreness in the lower leg along the inner shin. There may even be some mild swelling.
Many times, shin splints seem to disappear while actually running or training, but flare up with a vengence once the workout is done. For a young athlete, this can be confusing because they may be able to get through a hard workout with no pain, but then can hardly walk afterward.
There are many factors that can contribute to shin splints, including running on hard surfaces with sudden stops and starts, uneven terrain, either flat feet or high archesor excessively tight calves. Over-pronation can also be a risk factor. Pronation is when the ankle rolls inward as the foot strikes the ground.
When running, this causes the muscle to fatigue quickly and renders it unable to absorb the shock from the foot hitting the ground.
The most effective treatment for shin splints is rest. An athlete can remain fit with non-impact cross training. Swimming, biking, elliptical, and aqua jogging are all great ways to stay in shape without further injuring the shins. Ice is also recommended. Over-the-counter pain relievers are helpful, but with young athletes, this is something for parents to decide for themselves. Loosening up the calves, especially via massage, can help tremendously.
The return to normal activity must be gradual.
Shin splints can vary in degree of pain depending on the athlete. I remember my shins hurting during track, but now I know that this was probably because we had to workout in the school parking lot until our dirt track dried out enough. While I had no problem running distance runs on the roads, the pounding of intense interval workouts would flare up my shins and ankles.
A good warm up is essential to warding off shin splints,. Supportive shoes help out. Avoid running in shoes that may be too old and worn out. Arch supports can also help.
If the problem persists, a physical therapist can provide a routine of stretches and strengthening exercises.
Sometimes, it is hard to determine if the shin splint may have grown into a stress reaction or a stress fracture. A stress fracture is an incomplete crack in the bone, and females are about three times more likely to progress from a shin splint to a stress fracture. Many who have experienced stress fractures describe the feeling as “deep” or even a “nauseating” pain.
The most accurate diagnostic tool is a bone scan.
While shin splints may be common and annoying, they are to be taken seriously. A healing time of three to six months is not unusual, so for an athlete, this can be more than an entire season.