Shin pain or “shin splints” are used to describe lower leg pain that occurs either on the front outside part of the leg (anterior shin splints) or the inside of the leg (medial/posterior shin splints). Its proper name is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) and it is the bane of many
athletes and runners. It can often be described as “too much, too soon”, often having a dip at runners who build up their mileage too quickly, or seasoned runners who change their workout regime abruptly, for example switching from running on flat surfaces to hills.
What exactly is a “shin splint?”
Unfortunately, a consensus hasn’t been reached among health professionals.
Beliefs include that it is:
- due to small tears in the muscle that’s pulled off the bone
- an inflammation of the sheath of the tissue that wraps around the tibia (periosteum)
- an inflammation of the muscle
or a combination of these
Luckily, they’re all treated similarly!
Signs and symptoms
- Pain and/or inflammation along the inside of the shin – it may feel razor sharp, dull ache or throbbing
- Pain during exercise that may feel better as you warm up in the initial stages of injury
- Pain after exercise
- Pain at night or first thing in the morning
- Tender to touch inside of shins
If it’s not shin splints, what else could it be?
Shin pain doesn’t always mean you have shin splints, and it could potentially be a sign of another problem
- Compartment Syndrome – a swelling of muscles within a closed compartment which creates pressure. Symptoms include leg pan, unusual nerve sensation and muscle weakness.
- Stress fracture – an incomplete crack in the bone. This is more serious than shin splints and can often be found with a definite spot of pain, rather than a generalised pain of shin splints.
Common causes of shin splints
- Over pronation (rolling in of feet)
- Inadequate warmup/stretching (especially calves)
- Muscle weakness
- Tightness in specific joints (especially the ankle)
- High impact activities
- Worn out or inadequate shoes (looking at you, Nike Free’s)
- Excessive stress placed on one leg during running (cambered roads or always running in the same direction)
- Being overweight
Generally, one leg involved is more painful than the other and it’s usually their dominant leg. E.g. if you’re right handed then you’re usually right footed, which will be the one that hurts the most
How do we fix it?
- Stop running (for the short term while you rehab the legs)
- Modifying activities or reducing the intensity of training while you recover – switching up to low-impact activities such as swimming or bike riding
- Ice your shins – goes without saying, but will help decrease inflammation
- Running on flat, softer surfaces (grassy ovals)
- Warm up thoroughly with plenty of dynamic stretching
- Strengthening the legs to cope with the demand of your activity
- Taking pressure off the feet and legs through shock absorbing orthotics
Why Podiatry is important in fixing your shin pain
A Podiatrist will help to assess and diagnose the root cause of your shin pain- that way they can guide you to be pain free based on the issues that are causing your pain!
A Podiatrist can provide the following services as part of your consult to get to being pain free from shin splints:
An analysis of you walking and running to help determine any underlying causes which may be leading to your shin pain
Soft tissue release (massage)
This may be done through dry needling or massage to your shin and calf which will assist in loosening up the muscles and speeding up recovery
Strengthening and stretching program
Once symptoms have decreased to begin your gradual return to exactly what it is that you want to be doing!
Flexible Custom Orthotics
To slow down the speed of pronation (feet rolling in) to effectively reduce strain on the legs
To help you find the best shoes suited to your foot type, mechanics and loading patterns
Shin pain can we very frustrating, even during day to day activities,
however the good news is that it responds to the correct treatment very well!