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The vague medical term "shin splints" has largely been replaced by the more accurate term medial tibia stress syndrome or MTSS, but many athletes, dancers and soldiers still use the older term. Shin splints is a painful condition in which the bone tissue and thin membranes of the lower shin bone become inflamed. The most common cause of shin splints is overexercising, especially during running or repetitive jumping maneuvers. Shin splints/MTSS is one of the most common injuries reported by runners and professional aerobic dancers.
During an average run, the lower legs receive a significant amount of stress as the feet strike hard ground or concrete. Ordinarily, cushioned running shoes and a proper running stride will minimize this shock, but runners with worn shoes, pronated feet or flat arches receive even more stress on their shin bones. The result of all of this pounding is an inflammatory pain felt in a two or three inch area of the lower shin bone. This is shin splints, although doctors may suspect a more serious condition called a stress fracture.
The most common treatment for shin splints is at least one week of rest. Ice packs or a light elastic bandage may also help minimize the pain, along with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain pills or creams. Shin splints eventually heal, but returning to a stressful activity too soon can cause them to flare up again quickly. This is why many doctors and coaches suggest a two to four week restriction on running after recovering from shin splints. Low impact cross-training on bicycles or treadmills may be allowed, however.
Shin splints rarely require any surgical intervention, and a number of orthopedic specialists question the effectiveness of the surgeries currently performed. The key to avoiding shin splints is proper training. Stretching the lower leg muscles during warm-ups will allow the ankle to get a better push-off between strides. Shoes should have strong arch support and sufficient padding. Runners and dancers should not push themselves past their limits, especially if the pain in their lower legs becomes intense and localized.