Shin splints, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), refers to pain in the shins – the front lower legs. It is an inflammatory condition of the front part of the tibia. The pain is brought on by strenuous activity, more commonly in stop-start sports such as squash, tennis or basketball. Running too much on hard surfaces is also a common cause of shin splints.
Shin splints have two main causes:
Exerting excessive pressure on the lower leg muscles
Excessive impact on the muscle
Pain is usually felt early on during the physical activity, dies down somewhat, and then returns later on, sometimes during the same exercise session; this may occur during a long run. The pain can gradually become so bad that the activity has to be abandoned altogether.
A serious mistake is to try to “run through the pain” if it is a shin pain. This type of pain usually means there is injury to the bone and/or surrounding tissue. Forcing it more may worsen the injury and make the pain more intense and longer lasting.
What are the signs and symptoms of shin splints?
A symptom is something the patient feels and describes, such as pain, dizziness, fatigue, or anxiety, while a sign is noticeable by everybody, including the doctor or nurse, such as a rash, swelling or discoloration.
The patient has a dull, aching pain in the front part of the lower leg. For some, the pain and discomfort emerge only during exercise, while for others it comes after the physical activity is over. Pain can also be there all the time.
The pain can be on either side of the shinbone, or in the muscle itself – this depends on the cause. Signs and symptoms related to shin splints may include:
Pain along the inner part of the lower leg
Tenderness or soreness along the inner part of the lower leg
Moderate swelling in the lower leg
Feet may feel numb and weak, because swollen muscles irritate the nerves
What are the causes of shin splints?
The main cause of shin splints is too much force on the shin bone and connective tissues that attach the bone to surrounding muscle. The excessive force is usually caused by:
Running on a slanted surfaces or uneven terrain
Running with inappropriate shoes, including proper shoes than have worn out
Taking part in sports that include bursts of speed and sudden stops
An increase in activity, intensity or period of exertion can easily lead to shin splints, if the muscles and tendons struggle to absorb the impact of the shock force, especially when they are tired.
Females have a higher risk of complications from shin splints, e.g. stress fractures, especially if their bone density is diminished, as may occur in osteoporosis.
People with flat feet or rigid arches have a higher risk of developing shin splints.
How to avoid shin splints
Use proper fitting shoes with good support
Make sure the insoles are shock-absorbing. If you have flat feet, good insoles are vital
Avoid hard surfaces, uneven terrain, or slanted slopes
Increase your intensity gradually
Make sure you warmed up properly before doing exercise
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Written by Christian Nordqvist