By Christine M Harrell
The tibia, also called the shinbone or shankbone, and fibula are the two bones located in the lower leg. The tibia, named after the Greek aulos flute with the same name, is the larger of the two bones. It is prone to an injury commonly known as shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome. Shin splints are a painful injury most common in runners and athletes involved in aggressive, high-impact sports such as soccer, and they are considered an "overuse injury."
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Sudden increase in the intensity of a workout or its duration can increase the risk of injury. The tendons and muscles located in the lower leg act as a shock absorber preventing much of the shock of an impact from reaching the knee and upper leg. Exerting too much pressure or extreme impact on the muscles causes inflammation. This can cause pronation of the feet, an excessive inward rolling of the foot onto the arch, leading to further injuries. Diagnosis of the injury involves a thorough exam by a qualified physician. However, if diagnosis is difficult to confirm, radiology tests may be needed, including x-rays and MRI scans.
The intensity of the pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp, shooting pain and is felt on the inner portion of the tibia. The affected area usually measures about four to six inches in length. The pain presents at the start of a workout and may decrease as the workout progresses, sometimes virtually disappearing. The pain usually returns at the end of a workout session, however.
Shin splints are common in those with flat feet, a condition in which the arch of the foot is all but nonexistent causing the ankle to roll inward. This causes misalignment of the leg and impedes the ability of the connective tissue to absorb shock. People with weak ankle muscles or a taut Achilles tendon are also more likely to suffer shin splints.
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Treatment depends on the severity of the injury, but involves icing the leg to discourage inflammation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium may also be helpful. Support socks, sometimes called compression stockings, can prevent further inflammation and support the muscles. Those suffering from flat feet may benefit from orthotic inserts that increase the arch of the foot. Physical activities are limited or discontinued completely to allow the injury to heal. Once healed, the person should ease back into their exercise regimen, gradually increasing intensity. Exercises that strengthen the muscles of the lower leg are beneficial in preventing shin splints.
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