Shin splits is a common term that describes stress fracture(s) in the shin bone. The shin bone is between the knee and ankle. The most common form of shin splints is called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). In normal bone, shin splints come about due to overtraining. This is typical in runners and jumping athletes. With excessive or inappropriate training, bone cannot heal fast enough between each exercise session. Overtime the bone breaks down causing shin splints.
Shin splints is sometimes used incorrectly to describe tight calf muscles and tight muscles along the front of the shin bones. It can also be mistaken for a calf strain or calf pain. These issues are not shin splints and are treated differently.
The most common cause of shin splints in normal bone is through overuse and excessive training. This is common in runners and jumping sports such as netball and basketball. Conditions that weaken bones such as osteoporosis make stress fractures more common.
Shin splint typically cause pain that comes on gradually. This pain is usually located on the inside of the shinbone. Exercising may ease pain during the event, it will often come back worse during the next exercise session or after training. Bumps and swelling can also appear along the inside of the bone. Redness and inflammation can appear in more severe cases.
Treatment is focused on reducing pain and inflammation. Correcting any abnormal functioning of the low back, hips, knees and ankles is important and strengthening the leg muscles. Some treatments include:
- Applying P.R.I.C.E (protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation) to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Taping the shin to reduce pressure.
- Anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by a general practitioner or sports doctor as appropriate, discuss with your doctor.
- A rehabilitation program involving stretching and exercises.
- Orthotic insoles to correct biomechanical problems.
- Sports chiropractic and physiotherapy treatments such as deep tissue massage, brace equipment, dry needling and ultrasound treatments.
In most cases, the most important treatment for shin splints is an appropriate training program. Load management advice is the cornerstone of a good sports chiropractic or physiotherapy program.