The full name for shin splints is 'Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome' which simply defines the condition as a syndrome in which stress, over time, has caused an injury to the medial (inside) part of the tibia (lower leg). It is very common in athletes who pound the legs - runners, sprinters, figure skaters, gymnasts, etc. It is a typical overuse injury. It does not occur over night but over a period of time during which the athlete has been pounding the legs. It is not the added force caused by weightbearing - for it is not common in weightlifters or other athletes that put a lot of force on their bones - but rather the impact force associated with running. This is one of he reasons why proper footwear is essential for anyone involved with running. Figure skaters, gymnasts, etc. don't have the luxury of choosing ideal footwear with adequate cushioning so, if you're a runner, exercise your ability to pick a good pair of shoes.
The pain associated with shin splints is thought to correspond to the area where the soleus muscle of the calf attaches to the shin bone, or tibia. If you've ever whacked your shin, you know that there's not a lot of meat on the front of the tibia. It's really just skin over the bone. The majority of the muscles attach to the back of the tibia. If you put your fingers on the front of the tibia, right on the bony ridge where you don't have any padding, and then roll inwards and you'll be able to almost feel behind the tibia. There's a bit of a 'shelf' on the medial side of the tibia. This is where we usually find the sore spots associated with shin splints so if you poke around behind the ridge of the tibia you'd often hit some real hot spots.
It's important to understand that sometimes shin splints will present with the same signs and symptoms as a stress fracture in the tibia. It is also thought that shin splints can progress to stress fractures if not treated properly. So it is very important that if you think you have shin splints, and they are not responding to rest or treatment, you have a professional look at them because if you wind up with a stress fracture you're looking at a minimum of 6 weeks for it to heal.
Signs and Symptoms
What's Going On
The idea, as I outlined above, is that the soleus muscle is pulling really hard on the backside of the tibia, thereby causing pain. This causes inflammation in the outer layer of the bone, called the periosteum. It is directly related to the repetitive pounding forces associated with running, etc. The soleus muscle has to flex and pull in response to the pounding and this aggravates the periosteum.
What To Do About It
It should be obvious that if we can decrease the pounding forces through the leg we can decrease the likelihood of injury. Proper footwear is essential. Running in worn out shoes is often the triggering incident in runners. Make sure that the shoe you are wearing suits your foot type. Excessive pronation - collapsing of the arch - is one of the causes of shin splints. Also, choose your running surface carefully. Here are a few general rules of thumb:
Here are a few other suggestions:
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