Question: What are shin splints, and how are they best prevented/treated?
Answer: Shin splints are an inflammation, or overuse of the tissues that cover our shin bone, which is the tibia. We call that tissue the periosteum. And the medical term for shin splints is actually periostitis, or inflammation of that tissue covering the bone.
Shin splints occur early on in the season. After a layoff, you'll notice this pain along your shin bone early on in your run or activity, maybe three or four minutes into it. And it will resolve fairly quickly after you stop running.
The concern with shin splints is that they can progress to the dreaded stress fracture if they're ignored and the athlete continues to train and run. In that situation, the inflammation is not only in the tissue covering the bone but it actually gets into the bone.
Prevention is fairly straightforward. It's better and slower, more gradual uptake or conditioning as you start your running program or whatever activity you're involved with. After a layoff, we recommend a slow, gradual return to the conditioning during the preseason.
And once you have a shin splint, rest is obviously the best solution to decreasing the pain and inflammation from the shin splints. You can add ice, you can add an anti-inflammatory medication. And then for those muscles that are involved in the shin splint, again the muscles that flex the ankle and toes -- the soleus muscle and the flexor muscles of the toes -- a flexibility and strengthening program is the best way to prevent a shin splint coming on during your preseason training. So early on either in the off-season or early preseason, work on flexibility and strengthening of those calf and leg muscles to prevent shin splints.