Shin splints often occur in athletes after a strenuous physical activity or when a person just starts out a new fitness routine. The shinbone or tibia is the bone that connects the knee to the ankle and is afforded stability by several muscles and connective tissues attached to it. Repetitive stress on the muscles of the shinbone and the bone tissue itself accumulates and incites inflammation and swelling that explains the pain that is typically found in the medial or inside aspect of the shin. This is the reason why runners have the highest risk of getting this injury. Athletes who engage in sports that involve a lot of sudden stopping and going such as soccer and basketball are also at risk, so are dancers.
Other causes of shin splints may be inherent to the person such as having a structural abnormality wherein the arches of the foot are abnormally rigid or having a completely flat foot. Muscle weakness and limited muscle flexibility, especially that of the thigh and the glute muscles may be another cause as well. Other causes are improper training techniques, using inappropriate shoes and running downhill or at an uneven surface.
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Signs and Symptoms of Shin Splints
Sharp pain on the inner aspect of the shinbone is the most prominent and most common symptom of shin splints. Other signs and symptoms of shin splints are the following:
- Tenderness, soreness and swelling of the lower leg
- Dull pain that increases in intensity during or right after a physical activity
- Pain that is constant and persists long after the physical activity
- Numbness and weakness of the feet
Treatment of Shin Splints
Shin splints are easy to treat and rarely require more invasive procedures such as surgery. The following treatment options are recommended:
- Rest – the pain associated with shin splints usually resolve after a few days of rest. Other low intensity exercises such as cycling or swimming may be done at this time.
- Ice – Ice the painful area at least 3 times a day for at least 10 minutes
- Compression bandages can also reduce the swelling
- Non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or aspirin can help ease the pain and lessen the swelling
Surgery is only recommended if the injury persists for several months with severe pain or if a muscle has been torn from its attachment to the shinbone.
Prevention of Shin Splints
A proper warm up that involves stretching of the leg muscles is one of the best ways to prevent Shin splints. Other ways to prevent shin splints are the following:
- Wearing a proper fitting athletic shoe that offers good support
- Use orthotics, such as a shoe insert, especially for people with flat feet as this can lessen the stress on the lower leg by providing more support and stability on the foot and ankle
- Strength and flexibility exercises of the lower legs
- Having adequate amount of rest after a physical activity
- Gradually increase exercise intensity
- Exercise on even terrain
Shin splints, or medically referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome, is a common exercise related injury with the main symptom of pain on the shinbone.