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?
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 treatment options for shin splints?
The best treatment for shin splints is rest. It is not one of those leg pains that recovers faster with physical activity. In the majority of cases the doctor will recommend two weeks' rest. This means no running or taking part in any kind of sport linked to higher shin splint risk. However, gentle activities, such as cycling, swimming or walking are probably acceptable (check with your doctor or physical therapist).
Raising the leg and applying an ice pack to the affected area can help reduce the swelling.
To alleviate pain, an OTC (over-the-counter) analgesic, such as paracetamol (acetaminophen, Tylenol) or ibuprofen may help. Check with your doctor first.When to do exercise againIn most cases, the individual can return to normal physical activity within two weeks, unless the doctor or physical therapist says otherwise. Ideally, you should start slowly and gradually build up your speed and intensity. Make sure you are warmed up before exercise.
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
- Increase your intensity gradually
- Make sure you warmed up properly before doing exercise