Shin splints is the name for pain in the shins, or the front of the lower legs which is usually caused by exercise. It is one of the most common injuries in runners or individuals who do a lot of high intensity exercise such as tennis or basketball players. Although shin splints isn’t usually a serious injury, if ignored it can escalate and cause debilitating pain with every step. Treatment can usually be completed at home and recovery typically takes a few weeks if treated early. If you would like more information on how to really get rid of shin splints, then take a look at “this” post. It is important to go to a doctor to diagnose your shin splints if the pain is severe as they may be caused by a stress fracture. In this case, the recovery method is very different to that of shin splints caused by overworking. Shin splints are inconvenient, irritating and in some cases, can seriously affect your training.

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints is a term which covers a wide range of pain associated with the front of the lower leg –  in particular, the pain along the inner edge of your shin bone between the knee and ankle. You may also hear the term medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), which is also used to describe the condition. Shin splints accounts for 10.7% of injuries in male runners and 16.8% of injuries in female runners. Aerobic dancers are among the worst affected with rates of 22%.


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Although high impact sports offer the highest risk of causing this kind of injury, it is also common in people who walk, especially if there is an increase in their speed or distance. The most affected individuals include military personnel, dancers and runners. They can often be caused by training routines being changed or drastically increased which causes the bones, tendons and muscle tissues to be overworked.

Although this injury is extremely common, the precise mechanics behind the causes and recovery of shin splints is not well researched. This being said, there is a wealth of documentation into the potential risks and potential causes of shin splints.

Symptoms

It is important to go to see a doctor if you believe that you are developing or have developed severe shin splints. There are many different symptoms which can highlight the development of this injury, and not all of them require you to seek professional help from a doctor. However, it is important to visit your doctor immediately if your shin feels hot or if pain occurs even when you are resting.

Common symptoms of shin splints are:

  • A dull ache in the front part of the lower leg
  • Pain that develops during exercise
  • Pain on either side of the shin bone
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain along the inner part of the lower leg
  • Tenderness or soreness along the inner part of the lower leg
  • Swelling in the lower leg (usually mild if present)
  • Numbness or weakness in the feet.

It is extremely important for you to see a doctor immediately if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain in your shin after a fall of accident
  • A shin that feels hot
  • A shin that is visibly inflamed
  • Swelling in your shin area that gets worse
  • Pain in your shins even when you are resting.

How to Diagnose

A doctor will usually be able to diagnose shin splints during a physical exam. They will ask you about the types of physical exercise that you participate in and how often you pursue them. Doctors may prescribe diagnostic tests such as x-rays if they suspect you are suffering from a bone fracture or condition other than shin splints.

It is important to note that it is not always necessary to have a doctor diagnose your shin splints, and if you notice any of the common symptoms listed above, it is important to begin treatment for shin splints prior to seeing your doctor. If the standard treatments do not work within 2 weeks, then it is time to visit your doctor for a professional diagnosis and treatment plan.

Treatment

For the most part, treatment of shin splints is simple and can be performed at home without the aid of a doctor or physiotherapist. Here are a selection of treatments for shin splints:

  • Switch to a lower intensity workout such as swimming
  • Keep your legs elevated and use ice packs after exercise for 15 minutes every couple of hours until the symptoms subside
  • Ibuprofen or other over the counter pain killers that have anti-inflammatory qualities
  • Massage or foam rolling
  • Core and lower leg strength training

Always check with a doctor before restarting any activities after recovering from shin splints. For a more in-depth study into the treatments of shin splints, have a look at another post “here” which looks at how to fully treat shin splints at home.

Managing the Condition


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Shin splints is a complex condition, and the exact causes and nature have yet to be explored in detail. This means that managing the condition can seem daunting due to the lack of evidence supporting the claims of many websites. However once shin splints has occurred once, you will also be at risk of another injury. If you are not aware of the key prevention methods, then the risk of injury greatly increases, therefore it is important to follow to following advice to reduce this risk:

Correct footwear is a big factor in reducing the risk of shin splints, as shoes that are well fitting, suited to the sport and have not been over worn will support the foot and ensure that you keep a good running posture. Another way to improve the support of your shoe is to wear shock absorbing insoles, this will reduce the impact of your foot striking the floor. Another method for managing shin splints is to focus on achieving a full and effective warm up and cool down, including all of the necessary stretches as well as avoiding exercising on hard, uneven or slanted ground during the workout. Finally, engagement in strength training is important to reduce the pressure on the legs throughout the workout, two areas to focus strength training on are the lower legs through toe exercises and the core.

ALSO READ:  Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis

Finally the most important method for managing the condition is not to increase the intensity of the training too quickly, it is important to aim for around 10% increase in training intensity at a time to avoid repeat injury.

Other Causes and Related Conditions

Shin splints is not the only cause of lower leg pain, and there are several other conditions that lower leg pain can be caused by. The most common of injuries apart from shin splints are stress fractures, sprains or strains, tendon injury, peripheral arterial disease and compartment syndrome.

A stress fracture is another name for small cracks in the bone, and main symptoms of these is that it is usually focused in one leg – although both can be affected. Stress fractures usually present as pain in a small area and produce some swelling. It is important to visit your doctor if you exhibit any of these symptoms.

A sprain or strain usually causes swelling, bruising and pain that continues during rest. They usually occur when excessive force has been applied to a joint and affects the ligaments or muscle fibres through stretching, twisting or tearing.

A tendon injury presents with symptoms of stiffness, pain, weakness and a grating or cracking sensation when moving the affected area. There are several different tendon injuries that could be caused through excessive force or repetitive movement such as tendonitis, tendinopathy, tenosynovitis, and tendon rupture.

Reduced blood flow to the legs can cause aching pains that are triggered by physical activity, but usually fades after a few minutes of rest. It is caused by a restriction of blood flow due to fatty deposits building up in the arteries, it can also be known as peripheral vascular disease. The main treatment is lifestyle changes and medication to reduce the effects of peripheral arterial disease.

There are two types of compartment syndrome, acute and chronic. Acute compartment syndrome occurs suddenly, usually after a fracture or severe injury and requires urgent treatment. Chronic compartment syndrome happens gradually and passes within a few minutes after exercising, it is not considered a medical emergency and does not cause permanent damage.

Shin Splints FAQ

Here are some answers to some basic questions you might have about Shin Splints.

How do I know I have shin splints?

Some symptoms include tenderness, pain and inflammation in the area around the shin bone. You may also feel pain along the front of your lower leg or along the inside of the bone. The pain may stop when you stop exercising, however will eventually become continuous if left untreated.

Who is at risk of sports related injuries?

Runners are one of the most likely individuals to develop shin splints, however it doesn’t necessarily have to be due to high intensity sports, many hikers or walkers have also developed shin splints due to an increase in physical activity and stress on the bones.

What happens if I continue exercising before the recommended recovery?

You will put yourself at risk from aggravating the injury and therefore causing a longer healing process.

How do I keep myself fit during the recovery period?

Having shin splints does not mean you need to give up exercise all together, it simply means that you will need to be more creative with your exercises, for example focussing on strength related exercises for your core, or alternative training such as swimming.

How do I keep my bones healthy?

Healthy bones greatly increase the recovery process; therefore it is important to avoid smoking, increase vitamin D levels and eat a healthy balanced diet to ensure bone density and muscle recovery are at their optimum levels.

How do I know when I’m recovered?

Testing whether you can walk, jog, jump and sprint without pain are good measures for your recovery. Another method for testing your recovery is whether your injured leg is as flexible and strong as your other leg.

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