Shin Splints in Young Athletes: A Parents’ Guide

Via Pixabay

Track, soccer, softball, football, basketball, cheer, dance and more; this is the list of sports that can lead to one of the most frequent injuries in young, developing athletes. With spring in full bloom and practices in full swing, you may want to be informed about this achey, annoying, and sometimes chronic type of pain.

Any activity that involves a good amount of running, jumping, or pressure on the legs can induce shin splints—one of the leading causes of lower leg pain in children. Scroll through some insight and advice in this parent guide and learn how to combat the issue before it becomes a major problem for your little one’s legs.

What Exactly Are Shin Splints?

A shin splint, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is lower leg pain found over the shin bone. It is an extremely common strain injury for many active young athletes. It includes both the muscle on the inside of the shin and the actual bone itself that it is attached to. The pain begins when the connection between the two becomes irritated due to minor tears or overworking (which is frequent in athletes, especially growing ones).

Some of the common risk factors include:

  • Running, jogging, jumping
  • Excessive loading/weight placed on the shin area
  • Having flat feet or rigid arches
  • Sudden increase in activity
  • Being overweight/carrying extra weight
  • Muscle imbalance in the hips, ankles, and/or pelvis

What are the Symptoms of Shin Splints?

Shin splints can be quite painful. Sometimes swelling may occur, as well as redness, soreness, and tenderness at the site of the pain. Depending on the extent of the injury, shin splints can also cause an intense burning sensation or a frequent stabbing feeling.

There is also the possibility of consistent aching, even when you are at rest. Other times, the pain is instigated by movement, such as running or even touching the area.

The Diagnosis & the Treatment

Young athlete holding shin after suffering from shin splints during game
Via Children’s MD

Once your child starts experiencing this pain, don’t wait to visit a healthcare professional for a possible diagnosis. Your doctor or physical therapist will examine your child’s legs thoroughly, possibly have them do some exercises to see their movements, and take X-rays (to ensure that no small, stress fractures have taken place).

Once diagnosed and/or referred to a physical therapist for treatment, your child may go through more tests of the musculoskeletal system to evaluate strength, mobilitlity, flexibility, and pain levels.

After diagnosis and measurement of the injury, your child’s physiotherapist will create some type of treatment plan that will include strength and conditioning training, as well as plenty of rest for the affected muscles.

Physical Therapy: All the Right Moves

Treatment plans will look different depending on each person who undergoes this injury and what caused it in the first place.

The first goal of the plan is to relieve the pain, which may include the following steps (including the RICE method—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation):

  • Resting or taking a break from exercises, activities, or sports (two weeks is usually the minimum resting period to properly begin the healing process)
  • Hands-on massages from the therapist during routine visits
  • Icing the area in 10-20 intervals
  • Taping the arch of the foot when back to activity
  • Acquiring new footwear to improve comfort and support

Once pain is relieved, it’s time to begin strengthening the area. A physiotherapist may advise:

  • Exercising that will strengthen and stretch the area
  • Exercising to increase the strength of hip rotation, abduction, and extension
  • Exercising that increases the arch and shin muscle strength
  • Stretching of the calf and foot
  • Squats, reaching, and heel raises
  • Landing techniques for athletes that jump (basketball players, for example)
  • Learning leg and foot control

Moving Forward & Prevention Tips

Physiotherapist working with child who has suffered from shin splints
Via PT Solutions

For those that are worried about ending up with shin splints, there are several ways to prevent further injury. Here are some ways that are recommended to keep the pain at bay:

  • Annual physicals should be made to assess fitness or areas of concern
  • Continue stretching before any physical activity, including proper warm-up and cool-down techniques
  • Commit to strength and endurance training for the foot, hip, pelvic muscles, and legs
  • Learn how to improve balance, walking, and running techniques
  • Meet with a professional to enact proper training or exercise programs
  • Wear arch supports and proper footwear for comfort and support (as mentioned above)
  • Limit play, exercise, or activity on hard surfaces such as concrete
  • Make sure daily supplements include Vitamin D and Calcium