Shin pain or shin splints means pain and tenderness that is felt on the front of the lower leg. It usually comes on after sports or strenuous exercise such as running. What’s happening is that the muscles, tendons, and the thin layer of tissue covering the tibia bone (known as the periosteum) have become inflamed and this causes pain.
You are at risk for shin pain and shin splints if you:
- Have flat feet or very rigid arches
- Run or jog
- Like to dance
- Have suddenly increased your training or started a new high-impact training program
- Just joined the military and are in training
Fortunately, surgical treatment is usually not needed for shin splints. However, nonsurgical treatment does require a few weeks of rest from the activity that caused it. During this time, you should substitute other forms of conditioning.
Your podiatrist may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications or cold packs and mild compression, along with stretching exercises. A complete gait analysis will show how the foot is affecting the leg and causing the shin splints and be able to neutralize the problemwith a custom bio-mechanical orthotic.The cause of the injury “shin splints” is abnormal foot motion.
Shin pain and shin splints usually don’t cause severe pain with walking. And the good news is that after you have rested for several weeks from the vigorous activity that caused the shin splints, you can go back to training at a lower level.
However, you will need to warm up and stretch before you train. Don’t start back full speed. Instead, increase your training gradually. If the pain recurs, stop training immediately and apply a cold pack. Rest for a day or two, then return to training again at even less intensity than before.
There are other causes of shin pain and shin splints besides overtraining. Shin splints can also be a symptom of a stress fracture, which requires an x-ray. Shin pain could also be due to tendonitis, or a partial tear of the tendon, that requires an MRI to diagnose. A rare cause is chronic exertional compartment syndrome in which the muscles have swollen to the extent that blood cannot flow in, and this requires surgical intervention.