You do not necessarily have to be running to develop shin splints. The pain is caused by stress on one of the major bones in the leg. This stress can come from some sort of exercise, but it may occur after the workout rather than during it. Shin splits are rarely a cause for concern. If the pain is chronic or debilitating, consult your doctor to ensure you do not have a more serious condition.
What Causes Shin Splints?
Medial tibial stress syndrome, or shin splints, occur when force is placed on the tibia bone and connective tissue. The tibia is the large bone that sits in the lower leg, or calf region. The jolting effect of running is a common cause of shin splints, but any high-impact exercise can cause shin splints as well. For example, playing basketball requires sudden starts and stops that stress the lower leg and may lead to shin splints. The pain is likely to occur during the exercise but can show up later, especially if you are active throughout the day.
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Basic first aid can reduce the pain of a shin splint. Once the pain begins, apply an ice pack to the area. Leave the ice in place for 20 minutes to reduce inflammation and help relieve pain. Reapply the ice four to eight times a day for up to three days. Switch to a low-impact exercise for a few days to allow the leg to heal. For example, try bike riding instead of running. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen as needed.
Wear shoes with an arch support. Such support increases the amount of buffer and reduces the jolting to your legs. Wear shoes designed for the form of exercise you enjoy. So if you are a runner, wear running shoes. Stretch the calf muscles prior to running or any high-impact exercise. Stretching helps warm up the tissue in the lower legs and builds strength. For instance, lay your hands on a wall and push one leg back. Keep the leg closest to the wall bent at the knee. Press the heel of the back leg into the floor and hold for five seconds, then switch legs. Alternating between high- and low-impact exercises can reduce the strain on the tibia bones. If you currently run five days a week, cut back to three and spend two days swimming instead.
The pain from a shin splint should decrease when you apply ice. If it doesn't, you may have another problem. Repeated strain or trauma on the leg can lead to stress fractures in the tibia. If touching the sore area increases the pain, you need to see a doctor to rule out a stress fracture. If you experience pain often, get medical evaluation and treatment. Do not ignore pain that does not go away.