If you play sports that involve a lot of running, chances are you may have experienced pain in your legs from time to time. Early in the season or if you don't warm up enough, you may feel pain in the muscles on the fronts and sides of your legs. Sometimes the pain can be so bad that you can't keep exercising.

What are we talking about? Shin splints! And they hurt! If you've ever had shin splints, you know how painful they can be. They often feel like a dull, aching, throbbing pain in the legs that can continue even after you stop exercising. Shin splints can sideline an athlete for several days or weeks.

The shin bone — called the tibia — is the large bone in the front of the lower part of your leg. When you feel pain along the shin bone or just behind it, you have shin splints. Doctors call this condition medial tibial stress syndrome.

Shin splints occur when too much force or stress is put on your shin bone and the tissues that connect the muscles in that area to the shin bone. Runners often experience shin splints, as do athletes in other sports with lots of running, such as soccer and basketball.

The stress that causes shin splints can happen for many different reasons. Overuse is one common cause. Running too much or increasing intensity or distance too soon can result in shin splints.

Running on hard surfaces can also contribute to shin splints. Other causes can include having flat feet — what foot doctors call overpronation — and stress fractures or swollen muscles.

Fortunately, shin splints can often be cured with simple measures. For example, icing your shins, taking over-the-counter pain relievers, and getting extra rest will often heal shin splints in a matter of a few days.

If overuse is an issue, cutting back on your intensity or distance for a while can help. Likewise, running on a softer surface may also improve shin splints.

If shin splints are being caused by flat feet or stress fractures, you may need to see a doctor to correct those underlying factors before shin splints will disappear. If you try rest, ice, changing your workout, and even new shoes, you may want to consult a doctor if shin splints persist.

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