What are shin splints?
Shin splints are a feeling of pain or soreness that occurs on the inside or outside of the shin bone (Tibia). It is more common in people who run or play sports or in people who have recently increased their activities.
‘Shin splints’ are also referred to as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome.
What are the symptoms of shin splints?
Shin splints are a feeling of pain or soreness that occurs on the inside or outside of the shin bone.
People will often notice this pain arising with their first few steps after periods of rest and when being more active (like getting out of bed in the morning and beginning to walk or when transitioning from walking to running).
In less severe cases, people can report that the pain ‘warms up’ (the pain dissipates after gently continuing with activity). This ‘warning up’ phase does not often last for too long as the injury will become more painful as it becomes more established or will reduce in pain with appropriate management and healing.
As the injury develops, people who experience shin splints can also report an ongoing ache during activity such as walking or running.
How are shin splints diagnosed?
Shin splints are often diagnosed with a good understanding of the pain presentation and with a thorough physical assessment.
To understand well, your practitioner will ask you questions about your activity levels including your everyday, exercise/ sporting and occupational activities.
A physical assessment will likely include a close physical inspection of the painful area, joint range of motion testing and movement tests, including gait assessment.
These movement tests are imperative to not only identify if the problem is in fact ‘shin splints’, but to also identify and then be able to address the cause of the problem and with this deliver successful long term resolution.
What causes shin splints?
Every case of shin splints has multiple factors that have influenced the cause of the problem.
The top 3 influencers of shin splints are:
- Load: the amount of activity that the muscles attached to the shin bone are exposed to. Load variables such as daily activities, occupational activities, amount of occupational hours worked, footwear, exercise, amount of exercise and intensity of exercise are all load variables that may influence the onset of shin splints.
- Biomechanics: the repetitive way a person moves, including gait (the way someone walks). Understanding this is important because the way a person moves and walks has a heavy influence on load (explained above).
- Capacity: This refers to the strength or ability of someone to perform a certain task.
For example: Does a person have the ‘capacity’ to run for 10 minutes. The answer will be ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Capacity is something that can change. With the right advice, a person can develop their capacity to be able to tolerate the ‘load’ of running for 10 minutes.
When load levels, biomechanics, capacity and other factors have been thoroughly assessed, a well considered management plan addressing all the influencing factors can be recommended.
Who gets shin splints?
Anybody can experience shin splints throughout the course of their life.
People who have recently had a change in activity levels, load levels (see causes above) or previous injury that may have affected biomechanics or capacity (see causes above) may also be prone to developing shin splints.
For this reason, people who run, jog, or by playing sports like football, netball and soccer are more susceptible. People who stand or walk a lot in their daily or occupational activities may also experience shin splints.
What are short term treatment options for Shin Splints?
Short term management of shin splints is usually targeted at reducing the pain.
– Refraining from performing provocative activities such as walking, running, playing sport etc.
– Wearing lace up shoes to refrain from excessive movement within the foot and ankle, leading to pain in the shin.
– Using ice packs to reduce the swelling and pain.
– Taking anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the swelling and pain.
What are long term treatment options for Shin Splints?
Successful long term management of shin splints must begin with a thorough assessment and understanding of the influencing factors that have caused the problem (see causes above).
As every case of shin splints has multiple influencing factors, a successful management plan will usually involve addressing multiple factors such as:
– Load/ activity management
– Footwear advice/ consideration
– Orthotic therapy to influence biomechanics (see above)
– Strength and conditioning exercises
The important thing to understand here is that no two cases of shin splints are the same. People with different physical requirements and different levels of ability should always be offered an individualised program considering their needs and goals.
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Podiatrist, S+C Coach
Podiatrist, S+C Coach.