The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Sports Injury Spotlight: Shin Splints Sideline NBA Stars and Runners

Posted by on Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

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Last year, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant missed two games in a row with shin splints. If you’re an athlete, you know how frustrating it is to be sidelined with an injury. However, shin splints are difficult to ignore. This condition manifests itself as sharp, shooting pains running up the front of the leg, between the ankle and knee, caused by inflammation of the muscles, tendons and tissues along the tibia. If the pain was enough to keep Kobe off the court for two straight games, you know this is no minor issue.

According to Frederick Azar, team physician for the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team, NBA players rarely get shin splints because they do so much preventative work. However, overuse injuries can occasionally happen to anyone participating in strenuous activities.

shin splints
Shin splints are a common injury among basketball players and runners in particular. Image Source: Foot.com

What Causes Shin Splints?

– Increasing Exercise Intensity Too Quickly: Shin splints commonly occur early in running seasons or among so-called “Weekend Warriors” who go all-out during workouts — when they have the time. Most commonly, Dr. Azar sees shin splints happen to out-of-shape people who begin an aggressive workout without being accustomed to such stress.

– Changing Ground Surfaces: Athletes who train on asphalt roads often encounter pain if they switch to running on grass or if they find themselves running uphill and downhill a lot. Although, it’s not just athletes who fall prey to shin splints from the ground they traverse. Vance McAllister, a Republican Congressman from the 5th District of Louisiana, recently admitted, “I’ve got shin splints wearing these dress shoes walking on this concrete. I’m going to have to put my boots back on!”

– Poor Shoe Choice: When the ankle rolls as it hits the ground, the impact force is unevenly distributed, thus reducing proper shock absorption and stressing the tibia.

– Genetics: People with flat feet or misaligned hips are more likely to suffer from shin splints.

– Repetitive Injuries: Over time, tiny fractures may occur in the lower legs, which causes inflammation in the surrounding muscles and tissues. During periods of intense activity, scar tissue forms between the muscle and bone, but a sudden increase in activity may destroy this scar tissue and cause shin pain.

shin pain
Shin splints occur when there are small bone fractures in the tibia or small tears in the surrounding tendons. Image Source: UFHealth.org

How Long Does It Take Shin Splints To Heal?

The big question on most athletes’ minds is: How soon can I get back to my game? Here at our NYC sports medicine clinic, we’ve seen athletes return to play within two weeks, depending on the level of stress suffered by the bone. Naturally, bone fractures take longer to heal than inflamed tissues. If you’re chomping at the bit to get back to your active lifestyle, you’ll be pleased to know that, unlike other types of sports injuries, you won’t need to take a complete hiatus from exercise as you recover. Instead, you can switch to low-impact sports like elliptical trainers, biking or swimming. Runners can switch to flatter surfaces. Taking ibuprofen or aspirin while you recover will help with shin pain, as will icing for 20 minutes at a time, wearing elastic compression bandages (like NBA stars wear), and switching to more supportive shoes with orthotics.

How Can Shin Splints Be Prevented?

prevent shin splints
Stretching and gradually ramping up activity can help prevent shin splints. Image Source: RockBottomGolf.com

The best way to avoid shin splints is to gradually increase physical activity. The rule of thumb is to increase your time, distance or intensity level by no more than 10%. Certain stretches (as shown above) can alleviate or help prevent shin pain. A change in shoes and cross-training can work wonders.

Should You See A Doctor For Shin Splints?

A sports medicine doctor should be consulted if the pain is localized to one leg or one spot. Recurrent cases may require help from physical therapists and sports medicine professionals to correct misalignment issues that may be contributing to the problem.

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.