Runners and non-runners alike can occasionally suffer from throbbing or aching pain in the front of the shins that makes it uncomfortable to walk or run. This pain, known as shin splints, is the result of too much force being placed on the shinbone and the connective tissues that attach your muscles to it. It can be located along or just behind the tibia (aka your shinbone) and can even cause a bit of swelling.
While it’s a common problem in runners, dancers and those who play certain sports — particularly the ones involving a lot of sudden starts and stops, like tennis, basketball and soccer — it also happens to the less athletic.
Shin splints can be caused by flat feet, high arches, stress fractures (i.e., small breaks in the lower leg bones) or wearing the wrong types of shoes — you know who you are, chronic flip-flop wearers — for extended periods of time. If you’re a runner or athlete and are experiencing shin splints, it’s likely you just amped up your workout. Increasing your running distance or workout intensity can cause this uncomfortable ailment, as can running downhill, on a slanted surface or in old shoes. (Tip: The Mayo Clinic recommends replacing your sneaks every 350 to 500 miles.)
You already know the first step: Rest. To reduce pain and swelling, WebMD recommends icing the area for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs — such as Advil, Motrin, Bayer and Aleve — can help with pain and swelling as well. These OTC pain relievers aren’t meant to be taken frequently for a long period of time, though, so discuss with your doctor if the pain persists.
You might have to switch up your workout a little. Try running on softer surfaces (e.g., grass, not concrete) and avoid hills — or try giving your feet a break and doing some low-impact exercises like swimming or cycling. Stretch before your workout and work in some strength-training exercises. WebMD says heel cord stretches could help prevent more pain, and toe raises and leg presses could help strengthen the leg muscles.
Runners and non-runners alike might consider arch supports. If you’re getting shin splints without doing any strenuous physical activity, there’s a good chance you’re wearing flat shoes. Invest in a decent pair of sneakers or shoes with more arch support, and check out Dr. Scholl’s shoe inserts at your local pharmacy.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing severe shin pain following a fall or accident; your shin is hot and inflamed; swelling in the shin seems to be getting worse; or the pain continues even while you’re resting.