Shin Splints: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), are a common and painful condition that affects athletes, runners, and individuals engaged in high-impact physical activities. This condition is characterized by pain and discomfort along the shinbone (tibia). Understanding the causes of shin splints can help you prevent and treat the condition.

Causes of Shin Splints

Shin splints often result from repetitive stress on the shinbone and the surrounding tissues. Several factors contribute to the development of shin splints:

Overuse: One of the primary causes of shin splints is overuse or excessive strain on the muscles and tendons around the shinbone. Engaging in activities that involve frequent and intense running or jumping can lead to shin splints.

Improper Footwear: Wearing shoes that lack adequate cushioning or support can increase the risk of shin splints. Ill-fitting footwear can fail to absorb shock properly, placing additional strain on the shinbone.

Poor Biomechanics: Individuals with abnormal foot arches (such as flat feet or high arches) or those who have irregular gait patterns are more prone to developing shin splints. These biomechanical issues can lead to improper weight distribution and increased stress on the shin.

Sudden Changes in Activity: Rapidly increasing the intensity, duration, or frequency of physical activities without proper conditioning can strain the muscles and tendons in the lower leg, increasing the risk of shin splints.

Hard Surfaces: Running or training on hard and unforgiving surfaces like concrete or asphalt can amplify the impact forces on the lower leg, increasing the likelihood of shin splints.

Preventing Shin Splints

Preventing shin splints is essential for athletes and active individuals to maintain their performance and avoid discomfort. Here are some strategies for preventing shin splints:

Gradual Progression: When starting a new exercise program or increasing the intensity of your workouts, do so gradually. Allow your body time to adapt and strengthen the muscles and tendons in your lower legs.

Proper Footwear: Invest in quality athletic shoes that provide adequate support, cushioning, and shock absorption. Consider consulting with a professional to determine the right type of shoes for your specific needs.

Stretching and Strengthening: Incorporate regular stretching and strength training exercises into your routine to improve the flexibility and strength of the muscles in your lower legs.

Proper Running Technique: Ensure that your running technique is sound and that your foot strikes the ground evenly. Consider consulting a running coach or enrolling in a program like our “Run Better” therapy for guidance on proper form.

Surface Selection: Whenever possible, choose softer surfaces like grass or trails for running or training to reduce the impact on your legs.

Treatment for Shin Splints

If you develop shin splints, it’s crucial to address the issue promptly to prevent further damage and alleviate pain.

Use the R.I.C.E. Method. Start treating the condition immediately and alleviate the symptoms by using these common therapies:

Rest. Give your legs adequate time to heal by reducing or temporarily discontinuing high-impact activities.

Ice.  Applying ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes several times a day can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Compression. Wearing compression sleeves or bandages can provide support to the lower leg and help reduce swelling.

Elevation. Elevating your legs when resting can help reduce swelling and promote blood flow.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help manage pain and reduce inflammation when used under medical supervision. You should follow up with your general practitioner or a physical therapist if the condition persists to help you target the source of your pain.  A physical therapist can recommend exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shinbone and improve biomechanics. You might also need a custom-made or over-the-counter orthotic insert to correct foot arch issues and provide better support during physical activities.

Shin splints can be a painful and frustrating condition, but with the right knowledge and preventive measures, you can reduce your risk of developing it. If you do experience shin splints, early intervention, and appropriate treatment can speed up your recovery and help you return to your active lifestyle with minimal discomfort. Remember that consulting a physical therapist for a proper diagnosis and tailored treatment plan is essential when dealing with shin splints or any persistent pain in the lower leg. Call us today to find out how we can help you Move Better.