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How to treat shin splints in a young athlete

Q. Our daughter just started track. She is now complaining of pain down the front of her legs. I am assuming that she has shin splints. The pain is not severe, and she has been able to continue practicing. Is there anything she can do for her shin splints? Is it dangerous to continue training with pain?

A. Shin splints describes pain along the inner edge of the tibia or shinbone. It is a common exercise-related problem. Shin splints most commonly occur when there is a rapid or sudden change in activity level. Certain conditions, such as flat feet, can make a person more vulnerable to shin splints.

The best treatment is rest until the pain resolves. Activity level should then be increased gradually to prevent a recurrence of the pain.

Minor pain associated with shin splints can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen or naproxen) and application of cold compresses for 15-20 minutes after physical activity. It is also important to buy shoes with adequate cushion and arch support. Shin splints can be triggered by wearing shoes that do not fit properly or shoes that are old and have lost their support.

Most of the time, shin splints will resolve within a few days to two weeks. If shin splints become more painful or chronic, then a medical evaluation is indicated. Other conditions such as tendonitis or stress fractures can mimic shin splints and would be treated differently.