Shin splints is a term used to refer to pain in the front of the lower leg, along the shinbone or tibia. The pain may be sharp, dull or aching, and it may worsen during and after activity.
Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, this condition is typically an activity-related problem. It is frequently seen in dancers, runners, gymnasts, and military recruits.
Causes of Shin Splints
Shin splints are the result of repeated stress to the connective muscle tissues that surround the shinbone.
Any type of high-impact, repetitive activity can overload the muscles, tendons and bone tissue in this area. This condition often occurs in athletes who begin a new training program or intensify their existing regimen.
Certain factors increase the risk of developing medial tibial stress syndrome. Athletes with poor running biomechanics or muscle imbalances are more likely to suffer an injury. Sometimes improper footwear or uneven terrain can heighten the risk of this injury.
Shin Splints Diagnosis
To diagnose medial tibial stress syndrome, your physician will begin by taking a full medical history. The doctor will perform a physical exam and biomechanical analysis to look for muscle or gait deficits and/or other more serious conditions such as a stress fracture.
If stress fractures, tendonitis, compartment syndrome or other possible causes of pain are suspected, imaging tests such as X-rays, an MRI or a bone scan may be ordered.
Additionally, Dr. Engelen has specialized training in diagnostic musculoskeletal ultrasound that may be performed on the initial visit as a low-cost alternative to an MRI.
Treatment of Shin Splints
Patients are usually able to recover from this injury with conservative treatment. Over-the-counter acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen can be taken to manage pain. Applying ice to the affected area may also reduce inflammation.
Initially, resting the affected leg is essential, and patients are generally advised to refrain from their usual sports for a brief period of time.
Repetitive exercises and high-impact activities should also be avoided. Instead, patients should engage in low-impact exercises, such as an individualized deep water running program. Dr. Engelen can recommend an individualized physical therapy regimen to address any underlying biomechanical or strength deficits that may be causing your joint or bone overload. Your doctor may also perform a video running gait analysis for a more in-depth evaluation.
If the underlying biomechanical deficits are not corrected, the symptoms may not resolve or become more serious when high-impact activity is resumed.
If you are experiencing these symptoms or other overuse/running injuries, please see the sports medicine specialists at Steward Centers of Orthopedic & Sports Medicine.