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Last Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Shin Splint Pain - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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Dr. Ritesh KharnalPhysiotherapist • 20 Years Exp.Master in physiotherapy, BPT
Shin splints refer to pain felt anywhere along the shinbone from knee to ankle.It is a common overuse injury that most runners will deal with and dread. It is an inflammatory condition of the front part of the tibia. Pain felt on the inner side of the shinbone is called ‘medial shin splints’, while the term ‘anterior shin splints’ refers to pain felt on the outer side. While medial shin splints are more common, pain may be felt on both sides of the shinbone in severe cases.
The common term ‘shinbone’ suggests there is only one bone in the lower leg. Actually, there are two: the fibula and the tibia. The muscles of the fibula attach to the ankle and help to move the foot. The muscles on the outer side of the tibia extend over the top of the foot and help to lift the foot & uncurl the toes.
Causes of Shin Splints
Shin splits commonly occur due to overuse or over-activity. It usually occurs when a person has started running after a long period. Running on hard surfaces or wearing of inadequate and poorly shoes is also one of the major causes of shin splints. Other then this being overweight, lack of calcium or any previous injury can also be reasons of pain in lower leg.
Signs & Symptoms of Shin Splints
The patient has a dull, aching pain in the front part of the lower leg. For some, the pain and discomfort emerge only during exercise, while for others it comes after the physical activity is over. Pain can also be there all the time. The pain can be on either side of the shinbone, or in the muscle itself - this depends on the cause. Signs and symptoms related to shin splints may include:
Moderate swelling in lower leg
Tenderness or soreness along the inner part of the lower leg
Feet may feel numb and weak, because swollen muscles irritate the nerves
Pain triggers when the toes and foot are bent downwards
In severe cases,pain can also be felt while climbing stairs
Stress fractures of one of the two bones in the leg below the knee can also cause shin splint-type pain. A stress fracture is a type of incomplete fracture in a bone. Stress fractures tend to occur as a result of overuse and are known as overuse injuries.
Diagnosis of Shin Splits
Shin splints are usually fairly easy to diagnose. The doctor carries out a physical exam, checks the patient's medical history, and may ask relevant questions regarding lifestyle and physical activities.Sometimes, the doctor may order some diagnostic tests in order to rule out other possible causes, such as a stress fracture. The tests you may have are listed below
MRI scan- This uses magnets and radiowaves to produce images of your shin bone and surrounding soft tissues. Because MRI scans are the most accurate and don’t expose you to radiation, this is usually the test of choice.
X-ray- This is a test that uses radiation to produce an image of the inside of your body.
CT scan - This uses X-rays to make a three-dimensional image of your shin bone. You’re exposed to more radiation than a simple X-ray when you have this test.
Bone scan - This looks for abnormalities or changes in your bones.
Treatment of Shin Splints
Following are things you can do yourself to treat shin splints
Avoid doing activities that causes pain,swelling or discomfort. It is better to do low-impact exercises like bicycling, swimming instead of completely avoiding it. But if you have stress fracture it is recommended to take rest for few weeks and heal properly.
Try cold ice packs to help relieve any pain. Wrap your ice pack in a towel – don’t apply it directly onto your skin. Hold it in place for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. You can repeat this several times a day if you need to.
You can take over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce pain.
Check your sport shoes to make sure they are giving your feet enough support and cushioning. Orthotic insoles for your shoes may also help to improve the way you run.
When you start exercising again, start slowly. If you get shin splints again, stop the activity and rest for a few days before starting the exercise at a lower level of intensity.
Run on soft surfaces like grass
Non-surgical treatment
Your physiotherapist can develop a training programme for you to gradually increase your level of activity and help you return to your usual sports. They may use a range of different treatments to help your recovery, including massage and stretching exercises.
Most of the time, surgery isn’t required for shin splints. However, if your shin splints are caused by compartment syndrome and your pain is severe, your doctor may suggest an operation called a fasciotomy. This releases the pressure on the muscles in your lower leg.
Prevention of Shin Splints
Risk of developing shin splints can be reduce by doing the following
Wear shoes with good support and padding
Wear cushioned insoles to absorb some of the impact while doing any sport activity
Warm up before working out
Stretch the muscles in your legs after workouts
Work to maintain and improve strength in muscles

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