Shin splints is a generic term used to describe pain experienced over the front or inside of the lower leg. The most common presentation of pain in this area is an irritation of the soft muscles and their attachments to the inside of the shin bone or tibia. This condition is referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). That’s probably why we all call it shin splints!
Overloading of this area causes the muscles along the inside of the tibia to become overworked, tight and painful. The junction between the muscles and the bone can also become inflamed, as can the periosteum which is the outer layer of the bone. If ignored, the ongoing loading of the area can then lead to deeper bony stress and ultimately stress fractures in the tibia.
How can these tissue become so overworked? Often the problem lies in changes to training volume or type, with extra sessions, extra K’s or more intense sessions the usual suspects. Changes to terrain and surface, shoes or more hills can increase the load through these tissues. Any ongoing calf muscle tightness left unchecked can be a problem, as can some foot types or muscular weakness in the area. An accurate diagnosis and assessment of the severity of the problem should be made by a physiotherapist to ensure appropriate action is taken to manage the problem, such as the necessity for resting or cross training, further investigations such as medical imaging like MRI, and possible treatment options considered.
Initially ice and rest or moderation from the aggravating activity is required but it is important that the underlying weaknesses are addressed to ensure the resumption of exercise is smooth and there is no chance of recurring problems. Please contact you closest Physiohealth clinic to have any concerns in your shins assessed by an expert physiotherapist.