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There are many ways you can help children and their families get the care they need.
Boston Children's Hospital's Orthopedic Center provides patients with comprehensive care—including evaluation, diagnosis, consultation, non-surgical therapies, surgery and follow-up care.
Initial first aid for shin splints usually involves “R.I.C.E.” (rest, ice, compression and elevation), as well as medications to help control pain and swelling:
• rest: Make sure your child doesn't exert in any way that involves the
injured area; he can use crutches or a cane, if it helps.
• ice: Wrap a towel around ice cubes, or use a bag of frozen vegetables, to
ice the area at two-hour intervals, for 20 minutes each time.
• compression: Wrap a bandage or soft brace (from the drugstore) around his injury.
• elevation: The child should remain seated or reclining, with his leg elevated, as often as possible before seeing
The primary therapy for most cases of shin splints is simply to rest the injured leg—restricting all activities that involve using the leg for a period of weeks or months. Your child's doctor may also recommend a cast or walking boot in order to:
• relax the stress on the leg
• protect the leg from further damage
• force the athlete to rest
For an unusually severe overuse injury, treatment options may include:
• temporary use of crutches or a wheelchair
• physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the injured muscles and tendons
• (very rarely) surgery or cauterization
Caring for your child as he heals
Your child's doctor will give you guidance regarding:
• how long your child's leg should be rested in order for it to heal
• tools for getting the injured leg back in shape, such as massage, stretching exercises and strength training
Most kids with shin splints can return to sports and regular activities after several weeks or months of rest and healing time. But during the healing period, it's important for everybody in the family to support the young athlete's resolve to rest the healing area, since he may feel disappointed and even a bit depressed at not being able to run or play his sport.
Parents and coaches have a great deal of influence—for better or for worse. Parents and coaches should stress moderation in training and should restrain the zeal with which they push youth and teens.
Coaches themselves should learn and use proper training techniques and should avoid too many repetitive drills, since these are the overwhelming reason for overuse injuries. Coaches should also teach proper running mechanics and other sport-specific motion techniques.
Physical education departments should make sure that the surfaces of a track or field are in good shape, and that proper equipment, footwear and protective gear are used for each sport.
Our orthopedic specialists advise:
• warming up and stretching before practice
• resting at least one day a week
• cross-training/alternating sports: It is usually unwise for a child or teen to specialize in just one sport.
Multi-sport athletes tend to get fewer overuse injuries than those who specialize in just one sport.
• alternating exercises during practice: Not only is the athlete less likely to experience an injury—studies
have also shown that over the long term, muscle memory actually improves if one varies the drills.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has issued comprehensive guidelines for helping to prevent sports injuries. Below is an excerpt from the AAOS recommendations:
• Drink enough water to prevent dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
• Drink 16 ounces (one pint) of water 15 minutes before exercising, another 16 ounces after cool-down.
• Drink water every 20 minutes or so while exercising.
• Cool down for twice as long as warm-up.
• Slow down motion and lessen intensity for at least 10 minutes before stopping completely
• Schedule regular days off from exercise, and rest when tired.
• Fatigue, soreness and pain are good reasons to not exercise.
At Boston Children's Hospital, we understand that a hospital visit can be difficult, and sometimes overwhelming. So, we offer many amenities to make your child's—and your own—hospital experience as pleasant as possible. Our Center for Families staff will give you all the information you need regarding:
• getting to Children's
• navigating the hospital experience
• resources that are available for your family
In particular, we understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with shin splints. Will this affect my child long term? When can he return to his sports and activities? Children's can connect you with extensive resources to help you and your family through this stressful time, including:
• patient education: From the first doctor's appointment to treatment and recovery, our staff will be on hand to walk you through your child's treatment and help answer questions you may have—How long will his recovery take? Will he need home exercises and physical therapy? We'll help you coordinate and continue the care and support your child received while at Children's.
• parent-to-parent: Want to talk with someone whose child has been treated for shin splints? We can often put you in touch with other families who've been through the same process that you and your child are facing, and who will share with you their experience at Children's.
• faith-based support: If you're in need of spiritual support, we'll connect you with the Children's chaplaincy. Our program includes nearly a dozen clergy— representing Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and other faith traditions—who will listen to you, pray with you and help you observe your own faith practices during your Children's experience.
• social work: Our clinical social workers have helped many families in your situation. Your Children's social worker can offer counseling and assistance with issues such as coping with your child's diagnosis, stresses relating to dealing with a child's injury, changing family dynamics and financial issues.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”