Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is a very common condition amongst athletes at all levels. At My Family Podiatry, we regularly see people complaining of pain in the front of their lower legs, typically brought on by an increase or return to exercise. But what are shin splints? And what can you do to alleviate them?
What are shin splints?
Shin splints are an irritation of the periosteum of the tibia bone and the muscles that attach to it. Pain is typically found along the inside edge of the shin bone and is worst after exercise. One feature of shin splints which can be used to differentiate it from other more serious injuries is that it will often “warm up”, meaning the pain reduces with exercise but comes back once exercise is finished.
Shin splints are caused by an increased load through the lower leg which it is not yet able to handle. This could include sudden increases in your training load (more days/week, longer distances, increased training intensity) or changes in the way the load is applied to your feet and legs (different shoes, different training surfaces). For this reason, we commonly see shin splints in people returning to running after a period off or school children who are running for sports they may not have trained for since last season.
Risk factors for developing shin splints can include:
Flat (pronated) foot type: This foot position can place more strain through the muscles leading to increased irritation where they attach to the bone.
High, rigid arch foot type: This foot position is typically poor at shock absorbing and may increase the stresses placed on the lower leg.
Poor footwear: Footwear that provides insufficient cushioning and foot support may increase the likelihood of developing shin splints.
Sudden return to exercise: Without properly conditioning your body to the loads you are placing on it, the bones and muscles can become damaged and irritated leading to shin splints. You might remember when you could jump out of bed and run 10km but your body may not be conditioned to do that just yet.
What can be done for shin splints?
Rest: Shin splints are an overuse injury so taking a rest from the aggravating exercise for 3-4 weeks will help with resolving the pain. This could involve moving from an exercise like running to a lower intensity exercise such as swimming, cycling or an elliptical machine.
Appropriate Footwear: Appropriate footwear will assist in ensuring the forces placed on your feet and lower legs are more manageable. This may mean stability trainers if you have a flat foot or a cushioned, neutral trainer if you have a high and rigid foot.
Orthotics: Custom foot orthotics can be made for you by My Family Podiatry. They may be required to provide the proper force distribution through your foot or hold your foot in a more appropriate position. This will decrease the stresses being applied to the lower limb and get you back to activity sooner.
Managing Training Load: Gradual progression of exercise is important to ensure the body is conditioned for the tasks you require it to perform. This may mean adding one extra day of jogging to your routine, rather than going from one day a week of exercise to five straight away. For those already exercising, taking a look at your total training volume for the week is a good way of managing this and ensuring that increases are gradual.
Signs it may be more than shin splints
There are other issues which can occur in the lower leg, some of which are more serious than shin splints. If you have any of the below issues, please call My Family Podiatry for a more thorough investigation.
Pain which becomes worse with exercise, it does not warm up.
Pain after exercise that is so bad it wakes you up at night.
Pain with a very specific focal point on the shin bone that causes significant pain.
If you or someone you know is suffering from shin splints, don’t let this injury stop their exercise and activities. Call My Family Podiatry on 07 3088 6116 or visit our website to book an appointment and let us treat your shin splints.