Is Ice or Heat Good for Shin Splints?

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Shin splints is the common term given to any pain at the front of the lower leg, but true shin splints usually come from inflammation of the sheath surrounding the tibia. The question of whether ice or heat is a better treatment for shin splints is best answered with both -- first ice to relieve the pain, then heat to loosen the muscle. With a wide variety of treatment options, both by the athlete, doctor or clinic, a full series of treatment and prevention actions can be taken in response to shin splints.

Symptoms

Pain and inflammation in the lower legs is the primary symptom of shin splints, and though this will usually subside as a workout progresses, it will return at the end and even increase the following morning. Sometimes shin splints are evident by swelling, lumps or bumps that may be felt in the inside of the shin bone. Pain will be felt when the foot and toes are point forward or downward in a stretching motion.

Causes

Shin splints can be caused by any number of events. Most common in runners, shin splints are often caused by a sudden increase in distance or intensity of workouts leading to inflammation of lower leg muscles. Inadequate footwear, weak ankles or Achilles tendons, overpronation or oversupination may also lead to shin splints.

Treatment

First, rest to allow the injury to heal, and apply ice to relieve pain and swelling in the lower leg. Stretch the posterior muscles of the lower leg regularly, and continue other non-impact fitness exercises including cycling or swimming while allowing the injury to heal. Apply heat and use a heat retainer to apply compression on the lower leg, which will help reduce the strain on the muscles of the lower leg as well as retain the natural heat and blood flow to aid in healing. A sports clinic may recommend ibuprofen to help eliminate inflammation of the muscle. Clinics may also use gait analysis to diagnose the cause of the shin splints, as well as massage and rehabilitation therapy for treatment of the injury.

Prevention

Take the causes of shin splints into account when preventing future cases. For overpronation and oversupination, proper running shoes must be worn. If muscle tightness or strength cause shin splints, stretching or strengthening exercises need to be added to the athlete's training routine.

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