Shin Splints: What are they and What Treatment is Available?
Pain in the shins is a common problem, encountered by people who run and those who participate in sports.
It is also commonly called ‘shin splints’, and manifests as a sharp pain on the front of the leg.
In this article, we will discuss shin pain and provide more detail in the role of a Podiatrist providing shin splints treatment.
What Causes Shin Splints?
The shin refers to the front surface of the tibia – the bone in the lower part of the leg that can be easily felt when you run your hand along the leg.
Common causes of shin splints include:
- Going for long walks without prior experience;
- Running in inappropriate footwear;
- Sporting activities such as football and athletics;
- Poor mechanics at the foot and lower leg; and
- Running on hard surfaces such as concrete.
Shin splints is more appropriately named ‘medial tibial stress syndrome’.
The stress occurs due to a variety of factors placing abnormal load of the tibia and associated muscles.
This can cause trauma to the surface of the bone and the surrounding muscles and tissues.
On the surface of the bone is a layer called the periosteum.
Trauma can cause micro-fractures in the periosteum, which is accompanied by inflammation and thus pain.
Symptoms of Shin Splints
Pain in the shins usually occurs at the start of exercise, and can wear off after a few minutes.
Once the exercise routine is complete, the pain can return upon rest, and often with greater severity.
The shins can also be red and very tender to the touch.
Shin Splints Treatment
Treatment of shin pain is determined by the cause of the pain.
This is often a combination of factors which much all be addressed to ensure the pain settles and does not return.
It is also important to rule out other pathologies such as compartment syndrome which can present similarly to Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome.
Treatments for shin splints include:
- Rest This is usually the first line of treatment. Any aggravating activity pain should be avoided for a short period of time to allow the tissues to heal. If very keen to continue with exercise, activities that do not place any stress on the tibia such as cycling and swimming may be helpful.
- Ice pack application This helps reduce inflammation and tissue swelling, thus helping relieve pain. It should be applied frequently throughout the day, around 6 to 8 times at least for 10 to 15 minutes. Ice massage can also be very helpful as it reduces tension in the surround muscles whilst reducing inflammation.
- Assess/Change footwear Many times, shin pain is due to improper positioning of the foot on the ground during walking and running. Your podiatrist will analyse your gait both barefoot and in shoes. Shoes with appropriate support for your foot posture can significantly reduce stress and associated pain.
- Physical therapy and Orthotics Your Podiatrist or Physiotherapist can provide stretches and exercises that will help reduce pain and inflammation. A Podiatrist can also provide advice and possible prescription of orthotic devices to reduce pronation (rolling in) and torsion (twisting) of the tibia bone.
Once shin pain has recovered, it is essential to return to regular activity gradually rather than in a short span of time.
Further Resources for Shin Splints
- Better Health Channel Victoria, Shin Splints – Victorian Government created resource on shin splints
- Web MD Shin Splints – brief article on shin splints
- HowStuffWorks.com – article on shin splint treatments
Conclusion on Shin Splints and Shin Pain
Shin splints and associated pain is a common problem in people who enjoy running and sport.
Podiatrists can offer safe and effective advice and treatment in managing patients, allowing them to return to their activities as soon as possible.