Perhaps you were in the middle of your morning run or your evening aerobics class and it came on like gangbusters: shooting pain starting in the front of your ankle and continuing up almost to your kneecap. Now, when you touch the area on either side of your shinbone, it feels sore and tender. Could it be shin splints?
Although annoying, shin splints (and, indeed, most shin pain) is not an indication of a serious problem. It is an inflammation of the muscle or other tissue at the front of the lower leg that results from repeated, minor trauma or irritation, and it can be treated or prevented using the home remedies that follow. However, if your shin pain persists or recurs despite your self-treatment, see a doctor. You may be suffering from a stress fracture -- a tiny chip or crack in the bone. Stress fractures won't go away on their own and, without treatment, may become serious.
Don't work through the pain. You won't earn points in athlete's heaven for trying to tough out the pain of shin splints. At best, the pain won't lessen and at worst, you'll be setting the stage for a more serious injury. Stay off your feet, or at the very least, decrease your mileage while you're nursing a case of shin splints.
Ice it. Ice is the treatment of choice for reducing the inflammation of any sports injury, and shin splints is no exception. A handy method: Fill a foam or paper cup with water and stick it in the freezer. Once the water is frozen solid, peel back the lip of the cup to expose some ice, and massage the shin area for ten minutes at a time, up to four times a day for a week or two. You can also try icing the area with a bag of frozen vegetables, such as peas or corn kernels.
Tape it. Taping shin splints with an elastic bandage or wearing a neoprene sleeve that fits snugly over the lower leg may provide some comfort by compressing the area, which may help limit inflammation, and by supporting the tissues and permitting less muscle movement. (By the way, while it's wise to take it easy for at least a few days, you don't want to totally immobilize the leg; gentle movement helps bring nourishing blood to the damaged tissue while taking away excess fluid from inflammation.)
Take two aspirin. The over-the-counter analgesics aspirin and ibuprofen are usually quite effective in relieving the pain of shin splints, so you may want to give one of these a try. Either of them will also help diminish the associated swelling and inflammation. Acetaminophen, on the other hand, may ease the pain, but it won't help with inflammation. Women who are pregnant or nursing and anyone who has a sensitivity to any of these common medications should check with their physician before taking any medication. For a list of precautions to take when using over-the-counter analgesics, click here.
Tune in to your body. The biggest reason people get overuse injuries is that they don't pay attention to the signals their body gives them. If something hurts, rest it, ice it, and, if necessary, talk with your doctor about it to see what adjustments you can make to prevent the pain or injury from recurring.
Try an athletic insole. Since shin splints often arise as a result of the excessive pounding that occurs during jogging or other high-impact, weight-bearing activities, a padded insole placed inside the shoe may offer relief. These insoles help soften the blow as your foot lands on hard ground. You can purchase them at an athletic shoe store, sports supply store, and even some grocery and drug stores. They range in price from about $7 to $20. In addition, check to be sure the shoes you wear during the activity still have plenty of cushioning (see "Choosing an Athletic Shoe").
Stay off the cement. Another way to lower the impact of your routine is to be sure you exercise on forgiving surfaces such as a running track, crushed gravel, or grass. If you have to run on roads, try to choose streets paved in asphalt rather than concrete. If you do aerobics, you may need to stay away from cement floors, even carpeted ones. Suspended wood floors are best.
Cross train. One way to rest during an episode of shin splints without cutting out exercise altogether is to switch to another type of activity. If you're a runner, add some swimming, stationary cycling, or other activity that doesn't tax your shins as much as running.
Don't run on hills. Running up and down hills may contribute to or aggravate shin splints.
Prevent the injury from occurring in the first place. Always warm up before exercising to get blood flowing to the tissues. Warm muscles are less likely than cold muscles to be injured. Warm up with a few minutes of easy walking or gentle stretching.
For more information about shin splints and how to combat them, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- If your feet are always itchy, check out our Home Remedies for Athlete's Foot.
- Bumps on hands and feet might call for Home Remedies for Calluses and Corns.
- Athletes, especially, should read our Home Remedies for Muscular Pain.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including Reader's Digest, Prevention, Men's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. The author of four books, Gower is also a contributing editor for Health magazine.
Alice Lesch Kelly is a health writer based in Boston. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Fit Pregnancy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Eating Well, and Health. She is the co-author of three books on women's health.
Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.
Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.
ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:
Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.