What are shin splints?

Shin splints are a common lower extremity injury, characterised by pain in the front or inside aspect of the lower leg due to overexertion of the muscles. The pain usually develops gradually without a history of trauma and might begin as a dull ache along the front or inside of the shin (tibia) after exercise. The two types of shin splints are anterior (the front portion of the tibia) and posterior (the inside of the leg along the tibia).

Cause?

Shin splints can be caused when the anterior leg muscles are stressed by running– especially on hard surfaces or extensively on the toes. It can also be caused by sports involving jumping or shoes that are worn out or don’t have enough shock absorption.

Feet that overpronate (flat feet) can lead to increased stress on the lower leg muscles during exercise. Yet, underpronaters (supinators) can also experience shin discomfort because this foot type is a poor shock absorber.

Treatment and prevention?

Treatment for shin splints should include rest from the exercise causing the problem until pain subsides. Icing the area immediately after exercise, gentle stretching before and after exercising, and anti-inflammatory medication can also be effective.

Training through the pain of shin splints should be avoided. Runners should decrease mileage for about a week and avoid hills or hard surfaces. If a muscle imbalance, poor running form or flat feet are the cause, a longterm solution might involve a stretching and strengthening program and orthotics that support the arch of the foot. Ice massage, heat treatments and ultrasounds may be used for more severe cases.

Common ways to prevent shin splints are:

  • Stretch and strengthen the leg muscles
  • Wear shock absorption footwear
  • Avoid running on hard surfaces
  • Avoid excessive running or jumping on the balls of the feet
  • Wear insoles or orthotics with arch support for overpronation