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Shin splints: causes and treatment

Shin Splints

What are "shin splints"?

'Shin splints' is a general term used to refer to a painful condition in the shins. Pain or inflammation occurs either in the front or inside section of the shin bone. A common injury that affects athletes who engage in running sports or physical activity. This condition is characterised by pain in the lower part of the leg between the knee and the ankle.

Shin splints are various types of pain that occur along the shin bone or tibia. The latter is the large bone that is directly in the front of your lower leg. Depending on the severity of the condition, shin splints pain can range from mild to severe. They are most common among runners and athletes, along with dance professionals and military, police etc. Known in the medical realm as tibial stress syndrome, this ailment often affects athletes that have intensified or modified their fitness routines. Due to the increase in activity, pain emanates from overworked muscles, tendons, and bone tissue.

While shin splints can result in temporary immobility, there are several treatment options available. The most common are icing the affected areas, as well as rest and other self-care measures. According to medical experts, wearing proper, supporitve footwear is important to help alleviate and prevent the pain and tension associated with shin splints. Curbing your exercise and training routines can also eradicate the pain, while helping to shorten healing time.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Tightness and/or tenderness along the shins that comes on with a specific activity - especially running and walking for long distances. The pain usually settles upon resting. Shin pain is most common with people who are new to running or walking longer distances.

There are several symptoms associated with shin splints. The most common include sharp and steady pain up and down the shinbone. This pain can also radiate as high as the knee caps. At times, however, general muscle tension can emulate the pain. To rule out torn ligaments, stretched tendons, or other issues, a professional diagnosis may be needed.  For example by a physiotherapist. In some cases an x-ray, bone scan or MRI of the affected area may be considered.

over pronation contributes to shin splints


What causes shin pain?

Shin splints are generally caused by excess stretching of muscles and tendons along the shin bones (tibia and fibula). Over-use in athletes in runners is the most common factor. Muscle imbalance, including weak core muscles, can cause lower-extremity injuries, plus inflexibility and tightness, all of which can lead to this painful condition. Over-pronation of the feet is another major contributing factor. Over-pronation in simple terms is when a person rolls the feet/ankles either inwards.  Excessive pronation is a biomechanical factor that leads to the internal rotation of the tibia, which in turn will increase the forces put upon the muscles and ligaments in the lower leg.

Footlogics Sports orthotics for shin splints

Treatment and relief

Preventing Shin Splints is very important, therefore it is essential for athletes and runners of all levels to slowly build up their level of activity, and always taking the time for a solid warm-up.

Rest and icing the inflammation can help with your pain, however, orthotics are very useful in that they control over-pronation and thereby help prevent internal leg rotation. We recommend Footlogics Sports orthotics for sports shoes. If the problem persists, see your physiotherapists or a (sports) podiatrist.

As previously mentioned, there are many ways to secure relief from shin splits. According to bone specialists, adequate rest is simply essential. In fact, it is the main key in allowing shin splints to heal on their own. Depending on the severity of the issue, however, physical therapy may be needed. This, of course, will be determined by your doctor or treatment specialist. With physical therapy, the muscles in your shin will strengthen. This helps alleviate the pain, while restoring functionality and mobility to the lower part of your legs. Neoprene sleeves may also be prescribed to add warmth and support to your legs. Your doctor may also recommend range-of-motion exercise that help increase blood flow and circulation to the legs.

Perhaps the most common treatment option is ice. In fact, icing your shin helps ease the pain, while bringing down the swelling. To secure maximum results, icing the shin should be done for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours. This treatment, of course, should be done for 2-3 days or until the pain subsides. Anti-inflammatory painkillers may even be prescribed by your physician. This includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Like ice, these medicines help alleviate pain and swelling. Be aware, however, that these drugs do have a range of side effects. This can result in ulcers, along with a greater chance of bleeding. As a result, you should consult with your physician before taking NSAIDS or any medicine for that matter.

There are certain exercises which can be helpful in the treatment and prevention of shin pain.

Healing time and prevention

Since everyone is different, it is impossible to determine exact healing times. While some people heal within days, it can take 3-6 months for others to fully heal from shin splits. In some cases, surgery may even be needed to repair and resolve severe stress fractures. There are ways, however, to know when you’ve fully healed from shin splints. This includes x-rays, which will show normal results and zero stress fractures. Your previously injured leg will also be as flexible as your other leg. This means your leg will feel strong again, and have the ability to job, sprint, and jump in a pain-free and normal matter.

Even after you have healed, however, never jump back into your regular fitness regimen. The best thing to do is take it slow, while exercising lightly and in moderation. The last thing you want is to re-injure your leg and go through that grueling process again. If you previously participated in rigorous and highly active sports, take up swimming or something lighter to stay on the safe side. There are also several prevention tips you can implement to avoid recurrence of shin splits in the future. This includes:

  • Wearing shoes with strong support, especially a firm heel counter
  • Warm up and fully stretch your muscles before working out or playing sports
  • Stop exercising or playing sports if you feel any pain or discomfort in your shins
  • Never play sports or run on hard surfaces like concrete for long periods of time

Preventing Shin Splints is very important, therefore it is essential for athletes and runners of all levels to slowly build up their level of activity, and always taking the time for a solid warm-up.

How orthotics can help..

Foot orthotics has been proven to help those suffering from shin splints, as they reduce excess pronation and thereby internal leg rotation. In turn this lessens the stress placed on the muscles and ligaments around the lower limb. This will help alleviate the pain and tension. Other common sports injuries like Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis can be treated with orthotics. Footlogics Sports are available from selected sports stores, pharmacies and also from podiatry and physiotherapy clinics. Please have a look at our stockists list for your nearest Footlogics stockist. You can also buy Footlogics Sports from this website.

Footlogics Sports orthotics for shin splints