Shin Splints

The term shin splints is a common name often given to any shin pain at the front of the lower leg. However, true shin splints symptoms occur at the front inside of the shin bone and can arise from a number of causes.

Shin splints symptoms:

  • Pain over the inside lower half of the leg.
  • Pain at the start of exercise which often eases as the session continues
  • Pain often returns after activity and may be at its worse the next morning.
  • Sometimes some swelling.
  • Lumps and bumps may be felt when feeling the inside of the shin bone.
  • Pain when the toes or foot are bent downwards.
  • A redness over the inside of the shin (not always present).
  • More detailed information visit diagnosis and assessment of shin splints.

Causes of shin splints

The most common cause of shin pain is inflammation of the periostium of the tibia (sheath surrounding the bone). Traction forces on the periosteum from the muscles of the lower leg cause shin pain and inflammation. This has lead to the use of terms such as Medial Tibial Traction Periostitis.

Shin splints can be caused by a number of factors which are mainly biomechanical (abnormal movement patterns) and errors in training. Here are the most common causes:

  • Overpronation of the feet
  • Oversupination of the feet
  • Inadequate footwear
  • Increasing training too quickly
  • Running on hard surfaces
  • Decreased flexibility at the ankle joint

Shin Splints Treatment

Treatment for shin splints is as simple as reducing pain and inflammation, identifying training and biomechanical problems which may have helped cause the injury initially, restoring muscles to their original condition and gradually returning to training.

What can the athlete do about shin splints?

  • Rest to allow the injury to heal.
  • Apply ice or cold therapy in the early stages, particularly when it is very painful. Cold therapy reduces pain and inflammation.
  • Shin splint stretches should be done to stretch the muscles of the lower leg. In particular the tibialis posterior which is associated with shin splints.
  • Wear shock absorbing insoles in shoes. This helps reduce the shock on the lower leg.
  • Maintain fitness with other non weight bearing exercises such as swimming, cycling or running in water.
  • Apply heat and use a heat retainer or shin and calf support after the initial acute stage and particularly before training. This can provide support and compression to the lower leg helping to reduce the strain on the muscles. It will also retain the natural heat which causes blood vessels to dilate and increases the flow of blood to the tissues to aid healing.
  • Shin splints strengthening exercises may help prevent the injury returning.
  • Visit a sports injury clinic for treatment and rehabilitation.

What can a sports injury clinic or doctor do?

  • Prescribe anti-inflammatory medication e.g. ibuprofen (always consult a doctor before taking medication).
  • Tape the shin for support – A taping worn all day will allow the shin to rest properly by taking the pressure off the muscle attachments.
  • Perform gait analysis to determine if you overpronate or oversupinate.
  • Use sports massage techniques on the posterior deep muscle compartment but avoid the inflamed periostium close to the bone.
  • Operate (this is rare).