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Dealing With Shin Splints and Stress Fractures

By Abbott Kagan II, MD
And Jim Marshall, ATC/L

Today's female runner has shown prominance in both distance and speed events. Since women are becoming more active in running, the field of sports medicine has turned its focus to injuries involving women athletes. Most injuries seen in the female athlete usually involve the lower limbs.

Several issues that need to be examined when dealing with female athletes include nutrition, menstrual cycle, muscle strengthening and conditioning.

Some of the most common injuries seen in women runners are shin splints � better known as medial tibial syndrome � and stress fractures. Shin splints can be a very nagging and debilitating injury. They are generally caused by periostitis or an increase in compartment pressure. The periostium is a thin tissue that covers the bones of the body. In medical terminology, any time the suffix "itis" is used, it means inflammation. Periostitis is the inflammation of the covering of the bone. Treatment includes the application of ice (especially after running), taping, orthotics and an alteration of one's workout program.

Since medial tibial syndrome is usually caused by overuse, the athlete must decrease distance if she is a runner. She should also avoid hill running and running on hard surfaces. The athlete who does speed events must decrease the duration of her workouts and try running on softer surfaces. Symptoms are usually pain to the outside of the tibia, especially after a workout, or swelling over the front of the leg. If symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, one should consult a sports medicine specialist or orthopedic surgeon.

Athletes who go without seeking medical attention can incur a stress fracture, which is a minute crack in the bone. This type of fracture is generally found in the feet and lower leg, specifically the tibia. Stress fractures can lead to increased time away from the activity or sport because immobilization and rest are required.

Nutrition plays an important role in the prevention of stress fractures. Women should take in at least 1,500 milligrams of calcium every day, which will allow the bones to be strong and will help to prevent stress fractures.

Proper running and exercise techniques, along with good nutrition, should keep you running on a injury-free road.