Shin splint is a general term that describes pain or tenderness in the front of the lower leg. Some experts say that shin splint is not a diagnosis but a symptom of an underlying problem.
As with other injuries, there can be different causes of shin splints, although the injury occurs mostly with runners. Chief among the causes is overtraining — running past the point of muscle fatigue — leading to increased stress on the bones and tendons. Other causes include falling or excessively high arches, weakness in anterior muscles, tightness in calf muscles, and changing from soft to hard running surfaces.
You can strengthen your lower leg muscles by swimming in a pool with fins. This exercise is helpful in treating a case of shin splints. Do not follow this strategy, however, if the activity hurts the affected leg.
A shin splint can be very painful, and it is not an injury to be trained through. If you develop a shin splint from running, it will only get worse if you continue in that sport. You can, however, cross-train on a bicycle or elliptical machine, or hit the swimming pool to maintain your aerobic base while your leg heals.
Although a shin splint is a painful and potentially serious injury, it is easier to treat, and quicker to be cured, than plantar fasciitis. Here are some strategies:
Active rest with alternative training (bicycle, swimming)
Arch supports or physician-prescribed orthotics
Ice cup on the tender area five to ten minutes a couple of times a day
Stretching calf muscles before and after activity (especially after)
The “alphabet” exercise. Sit down and extend your leg to the floor.
Using only your ankle and foot, trace each letter of the alphabet on the floor. Do this twice a day to strengthen the lower leg muscles.
Tape the ankle to take pressure off the lower leg muscles
If the condition persists despite rest and self-treatment, it may be necessary to consult a physician or physical therapist.