What are shin splints?
Shin splints, also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome or Tibial Periostitis, are a painful condition affecting the lower portion of the leg.
It is commonly painful along the inside or outside of the shin bone, and is exacerbated by running or performing activities on hard ground. It is also often experienced after starting a new activity or rapidly increasing activity levels. For example, increasing the distance of a weekly run.
Shin Splints are an overuse injury and commonly take weeks to months to develop, but they can also occur after a single stint of exercise. Shin splints are the inflammation of the soft tissue lining between the bone and muscles attaching to the tibia. This inflammation does not occur spontaneously – there is always a cause.
What causes shin splints?
One of the main causes of shin splints is poor foot mechanics, which affects the shin in a chain-like fashion. Two things can happen as a result of poor foot mechanics:
- The muscles of the leg become overworked and overused. Essentially they are continually strained until they become sore and inflamed.
- The muscles of the leg are required to absorb too much shock and cannot cope with these high forces. This often occurs with a flat or high arched foot type and often with a stiff or rigid walking pattern.
Most commonly it occurs with:
- A flat foot
- A foot that looks normal in sitting and standing, but that flattens out while running/walking.
- A high arched foot type
- Restricted movement at the ankle joint or tight calf muscles
It can also be exacerbated by wearing old, worn out shoes, running on hills or slopes, training on hard surfaces (eg. Australian soccer fields in summer) and sports that involve jumping.
Once this begins, microtears in the periosteum (lining of the shin bone) start an inflammatory cycle that is difficult to end without intervention. If the trauma continues to occur, stress fractures can form along the tibia. This typically is not a “snap” as such, but a gradual increase in pain intensity until it becomes quite severe.
How do you treat shin splints?
A person suffering from shin splints requires a tailored program approach, because no two individuals are the same and therefore the cause of the injury must be determined.
Initial treatment always includes RICE (Rest, ice, compression, elevation), but if pain persists other treatment is required.
It is crucial to find out if there are biomechanical problems underlying the condition, otherwise any conservative treatment measures such as massage and acupuncture, will only provide temporary relief. An in-depth biomechanical assessment of the patient must be performed as it will give clues as to at needs to be corrected, stretched or re-trained.
Podiatrists are specialists of the foot and leg, and are able to treat shin splints effectively. Treatment by a podiatrist may include:
- Issue of appropriate stretches
- Footwear evaluation including running shoes
- Realignment of the foot in relation to the leg and the ground, often by use of taping or orthotics
- Correcting muscle imbalances through exercise prescription
- Advised on a training program and appropriate activities
The aim of treatment is to get the foot and leg to stop overusing and overexerting forces on these fatigued or stressed shin muscles.
If you have been experiencing shin splints without any relief from at-home treatment it is essential to have it professionally addressed to prevent considerable damage. It is also important to seek professional advice to ensure that your diagnosis is correct. Shin pain is commonly misdiagnosed and it can range from conditions such as shin splints and compartment syndrome to fracture of the tibia. For more information look at our biomechanical assessment page.
Make a podiatrist appointment
Our highly qualified and experienced podiatrists are experts in biomechanics and it’s our philosophy that the finest foot care requires an entirely bespoke experience. That’s why we are dedicated to providing entirely tailor-made diagnosis and treatment services that are the best in Australia.
Our dynamic practice has a holistic approach to resolving foot complaints.
From assessment and diagnosis to extraordinary treatment, every step of your journey with us will deliver you the ultimate podiatric experience, resulting in healthier and happier feet.
Book a consultation with our podiatrists in Sydney (Macquarie St), Darlinghurst and Randwick to discuss your condition and we’ll get you pain-free and back to full function as smoothly and quickly as possible, so you can return to the activities and life you love.