Do you notice the feeling of pain in your shins after going for a run, a jog, or even a walk? Well, you're not the only one.
"Many people are afraid of running because between 30 to 70 percent (depending on how you measure it) of runners get injured every year".1
Nonetheless, physical health is essential, and by educating yourself, you can avoid injury and manage inflammatory symptoms.
At first glance, a physiotherapist might suggest causes like inappropriate footwear, your training surface, and frequency or quality of training.2 But these are just some of the common causes of shin splints. The greatest challenge in medicine is diagnosing a problem and developing a viable solution.
Fortunately, I can assure you this is not cardiac surgery, and hopefully by staying active, you can avoid ever having to learn about it. But by properly understanding issues like shin splints and their various causes, these problems can become solutions.
What are shin splints?
Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints refer to pain or tenderness localised along or around the tibia. This is the large bone in the lower leg, above the ankle.1 Shin splints are common in those new to fitness and sport as tissues respond to increased use.2 It’s also common for athletes from repeated intensive use. From a scientific perspective, shin splints are the result of compound micro muscle tears in the muscles on the inside of your shinbone.3
Causes of shin splints
Shin splints is the top cause of shin pain but, there are other causes like injury, bone bruises, or stress fractures.4 They often happen after strenuous exercise, sports, or repetitive activity.1 Some important aspects to consider are your footwear, training surface (hilly, uneven, or hard terrain), and the frequency or intensity you're training.3
Signs and symptoms of shin splints
The most common signs of shin splints include the feeling of pain on and around the shin. It's usually felt when your heel makes contact with the ground distributing load throughout the shin. This can progress to a more constant pain where the shin hurts begins to hurt to the touch. Another symptom is the feeling of pain in the shin directly above the ankle as a result of putting a load on your toes or simply rolling them inward. This can progress and increase pain.
Given the fact that the causes of shin pain can be similar to other causes, it's always good to consult your doctor if you're feeling unsure.
Management and treatment for shin splints
There are different ways to treat shin splints based on things like your BMI, age, and general health (for example, your immune system or bone mineral density).5 But start simple, and you can never go wrong with some rest, ice, and self-care. Get a pair of shoes suitable to your activity, and even add orthotics to optimise the load absorbed in your shins. Change your training surface to a more cushioned and comfortable terrain. Ensure that you're training at a healthy amount and intensity.3 For the most optimal results, you can combine things like stretching and foam rolling. As well, strengthening exercises that target the shin, calf, and hip muscles, which collectively contribute to the load absorption, strengthening, and stability of the lower leg.
Are shin splints common?
Shin splints are common in new athletes, as well as runners, dancers, and intensive athletes such as those in the military.
How are shin splints diagnosed?
Shin splints are diagnosed by evaluating pain felt on and around the shin. If the pain persists, x-rays can be used to evaluate the severity of the injury.3
How can I prevent shin splints?
For those new to exercise, a gradual introduction to fitness is key to making sure the muscles and bones get used to the exercise you’re doing. In later stages, with a more intensive and rigorous routine, a combination of tools is key, such as stretching and strengthening exercises.
When should I call my doctor about shin splints?
If pain in your shins persists after a week even after resting, stretching your calfs, and using painkillers it would be wise to consult your doctor.
Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is the most common cause of shin pain for a runner or from physical activity. Symptoms of pain present themselves in the shin bone, more specifically along the inside of the shin bone. . This can be an overuse injury or simply the result of someone new to exercise and running. Why do I get shin splints? It can be the result of a number of things not limited to flat feet or your running shoe. Irregardless, sports medicine is a key to the amelioration and prevention of shin splints. Severe shin splints may require you to see your doctor and/or a physical therapist.
- Shin Splints [Internet]. Shin Splints | Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine; 2021 [cited 2023Jan25]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/shin-splints#:~:text=Shin%20splints%20refer%20to%20the,lower%20leg%20above%20the%20ankle.
- DeVries C. 7 causes of Shin Splints [Internet]. Sports. Veritas Health; 2016 [cited 2023Jan25]. Available from: https://www.sports-health.com/blog/7-causes-shin-splints
- Brukner P. Brukner and Khan's Clinical Sports Medicine. Sydney: McGraw-Hill Education; 2017.
- Wiznia D, Smith A, editors. Shin pain that is not caused by shin splints: Causes and treatment [Internet]. Medical News Today. MediLexicon International; 2023 [cited 2023Jan25]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/shin-pain-not-shin-splints#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20American%20Academy,need%20to%20see%20a%20doctor
- Ozgürbüz C, Yüksel O, Ergün M, Işlegen C, Taskiran E, Denerel N, et al. Tibial bone density in athletes with medial tibial stress syndrome: A controlled study [Internet]. Journal of sports science & medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2011 [cited 2023Jan25]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3761496/