Shin Splints

(Medial Tibial Stress)

Shin splints are a very common exercise-related problem. The term refers to pain felt along the inner edge of the tibia, also known as the shinbone. 

Shin splints are associated mostly with running, and will typically develop after physical activity. 

Anatomy

A condition commonly known as shin splints refer to inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone around the tibia. The tibia is the larger bone in the leg, and is commonly referred to as the “shinbone”. 

Shin splint pain will usually occur on the outside of the tibia, where the muscles attach to the bone.

Shin Splints Causes

Repetitive activity can overwork the muscles and bone tissue in the leg, causing shin splints to develop. 

Oftentimes, shin splints will develop when there has been a change in physical activity. For instance, if you normally run three days a week, but increase to five days a week, you may develop shin splints. Changes in the duration and intensity of your workouts could also cause shin splints.

There are a few factors which contribute to shin splints, mainly:

  • Having flat feet
  • Having abnormally rigid arches
  • Exercising with improper or worn-out footwear 

Runners, dancers, and military recruits are the three groups who are most likely to suffer from shin splints.

Shin Splints Symptoms

The most common symptom is pain on the outer edge of the shin. In severe cases, there may also be some slight swelling. 

Many describe shin splint pain as:

  • Being sharp, razor-like, or dull and throbbing
  • Occur both during and after exercise
  • Be aggravated by touching the sore spot

Shin Splints Diagnosis

Getting the correct diagnosis when dealing with leg pain is very important. Sometimes there could be other injuries that could affect the healing process. For this reason, imaging tests may be ordered to rule out other injuries in the leg.

Your doctor will likely conduct a physical examination of your lower leg, and discuss your signs and symptoms with you. Generally, a history of your symptoms is enough to diagnose shin splints if other types of leg injuries can be ruled out.

Shin Splints Treatment

Treatment is nearly always nonsurgical for shin splints. In some incredibly severe cases where nonsurgical treatment provided no relief, surgery was used to repair any damage to the tissue surrounding the tibia. However, the overwhelming majority of shin splints are healed nonsurgically.

Some different treatments include:

  • Rest. Shin splints are an overuse injury; several weeks of rest from the activity that caused the pain is usually sufficient in getting rid of it.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. These can help manage pain and swelling.
  • Ice. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Compression. Wearing an elastic compression bandage can prevent additional swelling.
  • Flexibility exercises. Strengthening the muscles of the leg may help relieve some of the pain in your shins.
  • Supportive shoes. Shoes with proper cushioning will reduce strain in the shins.
  • Orthotics. People with flat feet or anyone who suffers from chronic shin splints might benefit from orthotics, or shoe inserts. They can be either custom-made or purchased in a store. These can help align and stabilize the foot while walking or exercising. 
  • Returning to exercise. Before returning to vigorous exercise, you should be pain-free for at least two weeks. Returning at a lower intensity than before, or to a lower-impact sport, is always advisable.

Shin Splints Prevention

There are steps you can take to prevent shin splints from occurring, such as:

  • Wear a proper fitting athletic shoe. Be sure to wear shoes designed for your sport or activity, and that they fit the type of foot you have.
  • Slowly build your fitness level. Increase the duration, frequency, and intensity of your workouts gradually. Jumping in too deeply too quickly can result in a myriad of overuse injuries.
  • Cross-train. Alternate jogging or running with lower impact sports like swimming or cycling.
  • Barefoot running. Barefoot running has gained in popularity in recent years, and many people claim it has helped resolve shin splints. There is research to indicate that barefoot running can spread out the impact and stress among muscles so no muscle group is overloaded. Like any exercise regimen, barefoot running should begin gradually, and it is important to remember that you are at greater risk for cuts and bruises on your feet when running barefoot.
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