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Shin Splints
April 2002

Q. I've just started rugby practices and my shins are hurting. I've had shin splints in the past (from the side) and this is different. The pain is on the front side of the shins, not on the muscle. It's where the bone is--so on the right leg, the horizontal pain area is from the middle of the shin towards the interior. The pain occurs for most of the shin's vertical length. The pain is bad and is the worst after I do a sprint. I literally flinch in pain during our rest periods. Is this shin splints? Are there any braces, foot inserts, etc. I can get to ease the pain for the next rugby practice?

A. That's a good question, and one that a lot of athletes will wonder about. First of all, to clarify a bit, "shin splints" is a broad term for pain in the front part of the lower leg occurring with exercise, usually running or some other impact sport. It is often a chronic and nagging condition, despite your best efforts to get better.

Medically speaking, it is in the category of problems we call overuse injuries, meaning injury to the tissues from repetitive stress such as shock absorption, rather than due to a single traumatic event. Usually many factors contribute to these overuse problems, either anatomical (for example flat feet, unequal leg length), training errors (such as running more miles than your body can tolerate, running on hard or hilly surfaces), or equipment factors (such as worn out shoes or the wrong shoes for your particular feet).

And of course pain not resolving as expected might be due to something more significant like a stress fracture. Use of an ice pack after activity, and short-term use of anti-inflammation medicines such as ibuprofen can help. This problem deserves a visit to a sports doctor for further evaluation if the pain is not clearing up soon, or if you are having pain with daily activity despite these measures.



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