Shin splints can be niggly, painful or enough to make you want to throw in the towel: but what are they exactly?
“Shin splints” is a general term that describes any condition that creates pain down the middle or the side of your tibia (shin bone). They are caused by repetitive activities that put stress on the lower legs, for example, running, dancing and soccer.
Symptoms that you may feel as a result of shin splints can range from tenderness or aching, to a sharp pain along the front of your shin. The pain may either be felt in a small section or along the length of the shin. The pain is usually worse when you are weight-bearing and may increase during exercise.
The main causes of shin splints include:
- Medial tibial stress syndrome – this is inflammation of the periosteum (tissue that covers the outer surfaces of all bones).
- Stress fracture – this is an overuse injury that can develop after repeated loading on your bones over a period of time.
- Compartment syndrome – this is caused by muscle swelling within its inelastic (non-stretchy) sheath. Due to the increase in pressure within these compartments, blood vessels and nerves that are also in the sheath may be affected.
As there is more than one cause of shin pain, it is best to be assessed by your Physiotherapist. Having an investigation into your problem can also provide answers as to why the problem occurred, which will help in trying to prevent it in the future. It may be due to the way you are training, your biomechanics, your shoes or your technique.
Treatment for shin splints must start with relative rest. Relative rest means that you’re stopping the activity that is causing the pain and stress to the area, whilst continuing with pain-free exercise. As was stated earlier in the Running – Get Assessed blog, it’s best that this modified exercise is in some way related to the activity that you are resting from. For example, using the cross-trainer at the gym still gives you a cardiovascular workout without loading the leg as much as running, and there are some biomechanical similarities between the two activities.
The next step is to reduce the inflammation of the tissue. This can be done by icing the painful area or using methods such as taping or inserting orthotics to offload the tissue.
If your pain doesn’t settle, your Bend + Mend Physio may recommend that you have a scan or X-ray to look at the shin more closely.
Of course, it is best if you can prevent this from all happening in the first place! Here are some ways that can help reduce your chances of developing shin splints:
- prepare, train and rest well according to your chosen activity
- wear appropriate footwear for your sport or activity
- seek advice early – as soon as you address the problem, you can start your rehabilitation and get back into it all earlier