Medial tibial stress syndrome, commonly called “shin splints”, is a term used to describe pain and tenderness felt on the inside, lower border of the shin bone. Shin splints are commonly experienced by athletes who take part in activities involving repetitive running and jumping, particularly after a sudden increase in activity level (either duration, distance or intensity). The repetitive stress placed on the bones, muscles and joints of the lower leg during these high impact activities may result in irritation and inflammation of the shin bone (tibia).
Shin splint pain is usually described as a dull ache. It usually develops slowly over time, first being noticed at the end of activity. Some athletes may complain of pain at the beginning and end of activity, but not affecting their performance. Over time, pain will commence during activity and eventually may be felt during regular day to day activities such as walking. As shin splints progress, they also make the lower leg sore to touch.
There are a number of factors that may predispose an athlete to develop shin splints including: flat feet, rigid arches, muscle weakness, and/or muscle tightness. Other contributing factors may include running downhill, running on hard surfaces, running in worn-out footwear, or playing sports with frequent stops and starts (e.g. basketball, squash, tennis). While the pain presentation is often similar across individuals, there are a variety of bio-mechanical abnormalities in the pelvis, hips, knees, and ankles that can also lead to the development of shin splints.
Proper treatment requires a detailed assessment by a registered Physiotherapist to identify and target the contributing factors as well as the location of pain. Treatment includes rest, ice, specific joint mobilizations, an individualized stretching and strengthening program, and if needed a gradual return to regular activity. During recovery, aerobic fitness can be maintained with low impact activities such as swimming and biking. If left untreated, the repetitive stress on the tibia may result in a stress fracture yielding a longer recovery time.
A physiotherapist can perform a full assessment to determine the exact cause of an athlete’s pain and develop a treatment program to relieve pain, facilitate return to activity, and prevent future injury.