Shin splints are a condition that causes extreme pain in the lower front part of the leg. It is a throbbing pain that occurs when there is activity or movement in your leg.
What is considered as shin splints injury can be confusing, because shin splints can generally refer to any running related pain in the lower leg. The injury is medically known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). Shin splints commonly occur when an athlete overloads the muscles and tendons around the shin bone, creating excess stress to the lower leg. The term shin splints refers to pain along or just behind the shin bone (tibia). Tibia is a large bone in the front of your lower leg.
Shin splints are a common problem for athletes, runners, basketball and tennis players, and even dancers. It is often attributed to overuse of muscles around the tibia or an improper running technique and bio-mechanics. It is a stubborn and painful injury that can harmfully affect the quality of training. It is possible to overcome shin splints with a combination of treatments and a proper amount of rest.
Shin splints may also refer to a more generalized group of overuse injuries of the lower leg below the knees, but it is typically separated into two different groups which are anterior shin splints (front of the leg) and posterior shin splints (inside of the leg).
Why athletes get shin splints
There are several causes for shin splints depending on the background of an athlete. The injury can occur to runners of all skill levels, but is more common among less experienced athletes. Shin splints occurring more with less experienced athletes may relate to their bodies not being adapted to the stress and impacts occurring from athletics activities. Additional reasons for lower leg injuries may be related to improper bio-mechanics in running.
Even professional athletes are prone to getting shin splints. Since it is an overuse injury – training too hard or increasing the intensity of training too fast may give shin splints to athletes of any skill level. It relates to how much force and trauma your body can take before it gets too much. High level athletes often have the tendency to overtrain and not recognize when they are actually doing harm. Pain is generally a warning signal your body is giving that something is not right and in most cases it should not be ignored.
Different definitions of shin splints
As mentioned above shin splints often refer to a more generalized group of overuse injuries of the lower leg. Therefore the definitions of what are shin splints differ, and its causes may also vary according to the source. It is most often referred as Tibial Stress Syndrome which is the degeneration or irritation of the shin bone and its connecting muscles and tendons. The two primary forms of shin splints are anterior and posterior shin splints.
Shin splints may also be mixed with stress fracture of the tibia. I some cases it also related to compartment syndrome, which can be an extremely dangerous condition when it is acute. Compartment syndrome may cause permanent damage to the muscles or even cause an infection that is lethal. It may be a far more unlikely as an injury, but it always important to make sure your doctor is aware of all the possibilities in shin pain and have the problem diagnosed by a health care professional.
In the past the cause shin splints were commonly thought to be soft tissue damage of the tendons and muscles connecting to the shin bone. However it has been speculated through anatomic studies that a more likely cause may be trauma to the actual shin bone. Whatever the exact causes are – they all refer to too much stress from impact related activities such as running.
Anatomy of the lower leg
The tibialis anterior works as a dorsiflexor of the ankle, pulling the toes closer to the knee. The posterior tibialis works as a stabilizer of the ankle whivh pushes the ankle away from the knee. For the proper treatment of shin splints it is important to differentiate which from of shin splints one suffers from.
If you experience pain lifting your toes towards the knee, you are likely to suffer from the more common anterior shin splints, and if you experience pain inside the leg you are likely to have posterior shin splints. Shin splints is a painful stress reaction to the tibial bone and because of that it may create inflammation to the membrane covering the bone.
What are the symptoms of shin splints?
People who experience shin splints visit the doctor with symptoms such as dull pain, tenderness of the tibial muscles and throbbing in the lower part of the leg. The area becomes sensitive even to touch or press at its chronic stages. The doctor will find a mild swelling of the muscles along with tenderness. Over a period of time shin splints weaken and numb the feeling in the leg.
Pain is the only symptom of shin splints because of the obvious inflammation within the muscle. It is more common among people who involve in extensive physical activity and strenuous exercises like running on hard surfaces.
The onset of pain is typically experienced when the athlete starts running and as he/she progresses into the activity the pain tends to sometimes subside. However, it is clearly a degenerative condition and over a period of time the person may no longer be able to continue with running and will have to stop completely.
How to prevent shin splints?
Since shin splints are generally an overuse injury – it is recommended to take rest from any athletic activities and let your body heal itself. If the shin pain stems from damage to the actual bone, the remodeling process may take months. If you are required to stand for long hours or walk a lot at your work, using proper insoles or shoes might relieve your symptoms. It is important not to strain your muscles especially during the first signs shin splints as if the injury gets prolonged, it may be much more difficult to treat it.
In many cases simply resting is not a full solution to becoming injury free. There are multiple causes for shin splints that might be due to muscle imbalances or bio-mechanical dysfunctions. It is important to address these issues so that the injury doesn’t return once athletic activities are started. There are a large variety of methods for healing shin splints.
Having shin splints doesn’t have to mean a loss of fitness level. There are several non-impact workouts that may allow an athlete to return to their sport in an even better shape. Cross training in general is advised to avoid shin splints.
Now that you have learned what are shin splints – for the best information on understanding how to avoid the injury we recommend our shin splints prevention guide.