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Written by our Human Movement Specialists

Ah, the rollercoaster ride of adolescence, a journey from childhood to the teenage years filled with growth and self-discovery, peppered with a few bumps along the way. One such hurdle that youngsters might encounter is leg pain. It could range from those occasional aches associated with growing pains to the more persistent agony of shin splints. In this article, we'll explore how to distinguish between the two.

Is it Growing Pains or Shin Splints?

Growing pains often manifest as a mysterious, dull ache in various areas like the shins, calves, thighs, or behind the knees. They come and go sporadically, typically striking later in the day or during the night and magically disappearing by morning. On the flip side, shin splints present as more persistent discomfort, concentrated along the front or inside (medial) of the shinbone (tibia), hence the term medial tibial stress syndrome. This discomfort tends to intensify with physical activity and, if neglected, can lead to swelling and inflammation. Recognizing these distinctions is vital to ensure your teen receives the appropriate care.

Teenage boys playing basketball

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints are a prevalent condition characterized by pain and discomfort along the front and inner part of the lower leg, specifically affecting the shinbone or tibia. Although it can affect individuals of all ages, it is more prevalent in adolescents aged 9 to 16, particularly those engaged in physically demanding activities like basketball, soccer, or dance.

The pain associated with shin splints typically arises from overuse or strain of the muscles, tendons, and connective tissues surrounding the shinbone, leading to inflammation and discomfort.

Contributing factors to the development of shin pain in adolescents:

  1. Rapid Growth: Adolescents experience rapid growth, and this growth spurt can lead to tension and discomfort in the lower legs as muscles and bones struggle to keep up.

  2. Overuse due to Physical Activity: Teens participating in sports or high-impact activities that stress their lower legs are at higher risk of developing shin splints. This includes activities like running and jumping, a sudden increase in running distance or intensity, and a change of surface to pavement.

  3. Muscle Imbalance: An imbalance between calf muscles and the muscles in the front of the shin can contribute to shin pain. Weakness or tightness in these muscles can affect the lower leg's biomechanics.

A close up of a teenager's shins sitting on a brick curb because of shin splints

Symptoms of Shin Splints:

  1. Pain: Persistent ache in the front or inner part of the lower leg, exacerbated during physical activity, making it challenging for teens to participate in sports or even walk comfortably.

  2. Tenderness: The shin area can become tender to the touch, and swelling may sometimes occur.

Treatment of Shin Splints:

Seeking a healthcare professional's diagnosis and treatment plan is the first step in addressing shin splints. Once the cause is determined, an individualized treatment plan can be recommended. Standard treatment options for shin splints include:

  1. Rest: Reduce or avoid the activity that triggers the pain to allow the affected leg time to heal.

  2. Ice: Ice or gel packs can reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.

  3. Proper Footwear: Ensure your teenager wears well-fitting, supportive shoes, especially during physical activities. Read our guide to footwear here.

  4. Stretching and Strengthening Exercises: Visit a location to consult with one of our Movement Specialists for tailored recommendations.

  5. Custom Foot Orthotics: Our Canadian Certified Pedorthists assess and design custom foot orthotics to address and correct biomechanical issues in your gait that may contribute to the problem.

  6. Compression: Wearing athletic compression socks o can stabilize the lower leg muscles and absorb vibrations, aiding in pain relief.

Adolescent shin pain is a common discomfort experienced during growth spurts. However, it could also be a sign of more serious conditions like compartment syndrome or a tibial stress fracture so we recommend seeing a Healthcare Professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment suggestions.


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