The fall high school sports season is in full swing, and with it, the prevalence of shin pain in the lower legs of athletes.
While shin splints isn’t a medical term, most everyone uses it to describe the pain. The problem is that shin pain can be one of three or four different medical conditions.
Muscle soreness, tendonitis, stress fracture or compartment pressure are all possible causes of shin pain. These problems are usually on the front, inside or outside of the lower leg. The calf muscle and Achilles tendon on the back or lower leg aren’t considered shin splint areas.
Almost anyone running or jumping can be susceptible to shin pain. Usually doing too much too soon, or increasing intensity of running activities on hard dry ground, or hard surface conditions can cause discomfort.
Backing off somewhat, using ice massage or ice packs, or sometimes heat when indicated, can help the problem. If these don’t help, then a proper specific diagnosis is important. X-rays and MRI tests might be necessary to rule out a stress fracture.
Young growing bodies moving from middle school sports to high school might be doing twice the amount and intensity. If pain persists, get it evaluated. Often “intelligent rest” is needed.
What’s interesting is that almost all persistent shin problems are foot related. Both pronated flat feet and the other extreme, high arches, can be foot types that aggravate and perpetuate, if not cause, shin-splint type conditions. If the complaint is “every time my son or daughter gets really into the sports season their shin splints return” then check out the foot mechanics.
The shin muscles and tendons act as “the brakes” to slow down the foot, ankle and lower leg coming down from a jump or hitting the ground running. If the proper stability and alignment of the foot is off, then those lower leg muscles and tendons are overused or bones are stressed.
Shin splints are common for all ages in running and jumping activities — one of the often referred to overuse injuries. Prescription in-shoe orthotics are very helpful when foot mechanics are involved. Again, most persistent and resistant shin problems are foot related. Treatments often include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medicine and strengthening exercises.
Last month I wrote about stepping up your foot exercises — rubber band and balance exercises work all the shin muscles. Prevent problems — do the exercises.
Being in the proper shoes is always important. Knowing the foot type, especially in running, is also important. Sports-related podiatrists, therapists, trainers and a competent running shoe store all can identify foot types. You’d be surprised how many athletes at all levels are not in properly fit shoes. Get measured!
Dr. Weil is a sports podiatrist from Naperville with an office in Aurora. You can hear him on his weekly radio show at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays on 90.9-FM. Contact him at email@example.com and visit his website at sportsdoctorradio.com.