What are shin splints and how do I treat them?
Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), commonly known as shin splints, affects many active children and adults. MTSS refers to a dull aching pain along the front and outer side of the tibia (shin bone) during and / or after exercise. Shin splints are caused by an excessive overloading of the shin bone and surrounding muscles through overuse or sudden change in distance or intensity of activity.
Additional Causes of MTSS:
- Starting a new running or workout program
- Changing surfaces of activity
- Engaging in a sport such as basketball or tennis where there are frequent starts and stops
- Worn-out footwear
- Having “flat feet” or rigid arches
MTSS can often be confused with tibial stress fractures. A tibial stress fracture is also considered an overuse injury caused by change in volume or intensity of activity. Excessive overloading of the tibia bone and muscles attaching to the tibia can cause damage to the bone. If shin pain progresses and persists you should consult your physician to rule out a stress fracture.
Treatment of MTSS depends on the underlying cause of the pain. General self-management for shin splints includes:
- Rest. Avoid activities that cause pain. Try other forms of exercise such as swimming, bicycling, or other low impact activities which do not cause pain.
- Ice. Apply ice to the painful areas for 20 minutes a few times a day.
- Compression. A neoprene sleeve or ace wrap may offer support and warming of the leg.
- Stretching. Stretching of the calf muscles and anterior leg muscles.
- New Shoes. Assess the condition of your running shoes to determine if the soles are worn down.
- Reassess training regime. Surface(s) trained on, frequency, and intensity can all affect the lower leg.
Other treatments your physician may prescribe:
- Physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory medications
If your pain persists greater than a week or two with self-management as described above you should consult your physician for further evaluation.
The author of this article is Carrie Harpring, MS, ATC/L from Athletico – West Loop.