If you have ever had Shin Splints you will know how horribly painful – and persistent – they can be. Let’s take a look at what they are, what causes them, and how you can treat them.
What Are Shin Splints?
Shin Splints is a term used to describe a range of conditions – Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, Tibial Stress Fractures and Compartment Syndrome. As you might expect based on the names, these conditions develop as a result of overuse, or the stress of the muscles in the lower leg.
Bones remodel and strengthen themselves in response to the stress applied to them. However, it is important to maintain a balance between stress and rest, which allows the bone time to repair. Stress fractures happen when bones are not given sufficient time to repair.
Bones are covered with a coating called periosteum. The tendons, which connect muscles to bone, connect to this coating. Shin splints can form when the attachment to the periosteum becomes overstrained, causing thickening, micro tears and in some cases, crumbling of the tibia (shin bone).
In comparison, Compartment Syndrome is caused by increased blood flow to the muscles, causing them to swell inside the compartments in which they are enclosed.
Regardless of their specific cause, Shin Splints may be described as either Anterior or Posterior:
Anterior – the pain will be in the outside front of the lower half of the leg and involves the muscle which lifts and lowers your foot, controlling how quickly your foot hits the ground when walking or running. If it hurts to lift your toes while your heel is still on the ground, it is likely you are suffering from Anterior Shin Splints.
Posterior – cause pain behind the calf and on the lower inside of the shin. These relate to the muscles which control the foot arch during weight bearing and the lifting of the heel during walking or running. Posterior Shin Splints will hurt during weight bearing.
The pain from Shin Splints tends to be dull and aching. It may also be painful to touch your shins or stretch them. In the early stages, the pain will generally ease during warming up, but as the condition progresses the pain will return at the end of the activity until it is present all the time. It is very important to rest and not train through shin splints.
So, what causes shin splints?
Shin Splints can be caused by a number of factors.
- Exercise and Training – if you increase your training too quickly, train too much, don’t allow sufficient rest or are running on hard or angled surfaces, shin splints can develop.
- Footwear – inappropriate footwear, particularly when running, can cause shin splints by not providing sufficient support to your foot and insufficient cushioning.
- Biomechanics – flat feet can cause a strain on the muscle in your lower legs, causing shin splints to develop. Poor core stability or tight hamstrings and calf muscles can also be a factor.
Treatment of shin splints
Whilst shin splints are not in themselves dangerous, left untreated more serious conditions can develop, so it is important to seek treatment quickly.
In the first instance, rest, ice and protect is the key. Avoid the activities that have aggravated the condition in the first place, treat inflammation and pain with ice, and see a podiatrist for advice on whether taping is required to support your muscles while they heal. Mild painkillers may also help with the pain.
Once the initial symptoms begin to subside, regular massage to help elongate the muscles of the leg will help improve the condition and avoid future recurrence. It is also a good idea to see a Podiatrist determine whether foot biomechanics was a cause and consider orthotics as a preventative.
Finally, when you are ready to return to exercising, a gradual return, technique correction and taping to support the muscles during future activity should be considered.
If you are suffering from Shin Splints or would like to know more about how you can avoid them in future, call our Baulkham Hills clinic on 9639 7337 to make an appointment with our Podiatrist.