What are Shin Splints?
Shin splints are pain and inflammation of the tendons, muscles and bone tissue along the tibia or shinbone (lower leg). It occurs because of vigorous physical activities such as exercise or sports. The condition is also referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).
Causes of Shin Splints
The common cause of shin splints is the overuse of muscles and bone tissue of the tibia because of repetitive sports activities and a sudden change in the physical activity level. The other causes of shin splints include:
- Stress fractures (tiny, hairline breaks) of the leg bone, which may cause sharp pain
- Tendonitis caused by a partial tear in the tendon
- Chronic exertional compartment syndrome, which is the swelling of muscles due to exertion caused by increased pressure within the muscle compartment. Pain is severe because of loss of blood supply to the muscle.
Flat feet or a rigid arch and use of improper or worn-out footwear while exercising may increase the risk of developing shin splints. Runners and dancers are at a higher risk of developing shin splints.
Symptoms of Shin Splints
The most commonly occurring symptoms include pain in the front of the lower leg, during or after exercises. Mild swelling may develop in the lower leg because of which you may feel weak or numb.
Diagnosis of Shin Splints
Your doctor will diagnose the shin splits through a physical examination of the lower leg. In some cases, an X-ray or other tests may be required to detect stress fractures of the tibia.
Treatment options for Shin Splints
The treatment for shin splints consists of non-surgical and surgical procedures. The non-surgical or conservative procedures include:
- Rest: Ensure that you get adequate rest. Avoid activities that cause pain for at least 2-4 weeks. You can try low-impact exercises such as swimming, bicycling or water running.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines: NSAIDs are administered to reduce pain and swelling.
- Ice: Apply ice packs wrapped over a cloth on the affected area for 15-20 minutes four times a day for several days. Never place ice directly over the skin.
- Compression: Wrap the leg with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling.
- Flexibility exercises: This involves exercises to stretch the leg muscles to reduce pain and improve muscle strength.
- Supportive shoes: Ensure that your child wears shoes that provide good cushioning and support for the feet as it helps reduce stress on the shinbone.
Surgical treatment is an option that is considered only in very severe cases when conservative methods fail to relieve pain. Surgery may be required when pain becomes severe due to compartment syndrome. Fasciotomy is a surgical procedure where the tough and fibrous tissue is split to relieve the pressure built up within muscle compartments.
Shin splints can be prevented by following these measures:
- Ensure that you always wear proper fitting athletic shoes with good support.
- Make sure to warm up and stretch the leg muscles before starting any vigorous activity.
- Avoid running on hard surfaces like concrete.
- Ensure that you start any new activity slowly and progress gradually by increasing the duration and frequency of the exercise regimen.