Shin splints, also called medial tibial stress syndrome, is a very common condition in athletes. It is often used as an umbrella term to describe any pain felt in the front of the leg. The actual condition of shin splints occurs when there is inflammation to the sheath that surrounds the leg bone called the tibia. This sheath (periostium) can become inflamed from forces caused by the muscles of the leg during activity. When the periostium becomes inflamed, pain and swelling can be present around the front of the lower leg, bumps and redness may also be noted. The pain will be exacerbated by activity and it is advised to rest the leg during episodes of shin splints. Runners are commonly affected as well as dancers and members of the military. People with flat feet are more likely to get shin splints compared to people with normal foot arches. In some cases, shin pain may not be the result of shin splints but of tendonitis, a leg fracture or chronic exertional compartment syndrome (muscle swelling due to activity; not common).
Prevention of Shin Splints
It is generally recommended that rest be allowed for several weeks following the onset of shin splints. Discontinuing the activities that cause the pain during these several weeks will help to decrease any inflammation within the sheath of the tibia. Anti-inflammatory medications can be used as well if the pain is overwhelming or bothersome. Conservative care options such as icing the front of the leg (15 to 20 minutes, 4 to 8 times per day for a few days) and compression to the area can also be used to decrease pain. After the initial weeks of rest, physical therapy exercises and stretching can help to possibly avoid developing shin splints in the future. Other options for prevention of shin splints include proper footwear that gives the appropriate support depending on what types of activities are performed during the day. Foot orthotics may be necessary for people with flat arches as they give the added support that shoes do not offer. It is also important to increase the frequency, duration and intensity of exercise gradually, consider cross-training with activities such as swimming and biking, as these forms of exercise produce less strain to the muscles of the legs and to perform strengthening exercises for the lower extremities such as toe raises and leg presses.
References Cited in this Article