Shin splints is a sports injury to the shinbone and is actually a collection of various symptoms. The symptoms are a result of overloading the lower leg. This injury is common in running and jumping sports. It is an irritation of the transition of the periosteum to the tendon of the foot flexor muscles. The symptoms are sharp pain, tightness and stiffness.
The cause of shin splints is always overload. This could be the consequence of:
- Poor support of the foot arch.
- Imbalance between calf and lower leg muscles.
- Too much and too often running on a hard surface, while the legs are not yet sufficiently accustomed.
- Sudden strong intensification of training.
- Too much jumping.
- Too much running uphill.
- One-sided training.
The factors mentioned above - or a combination of them - are the cause of the overload. By allowing the body no or insufficient time for recovery, the overload will increase.
A nagging or stabbing pain in the lower half of the shinbone at the inside (about ten centimeters above the inner ankle). The pain may also be felt lower down to the inner ankle or higher up to the knee, depending on the exact location of the irritation or inflammation.
The pain is initially only present after load and disappears after rest; over time it lasts longer and more and more rest is needed before the pain completely disappears. Eventually, the pain is always present, even after prolonged rest.
The pain is especially felt when putting down and pushing off the foot. Sometimes even in squatting, upon touching (for example when crossing the legs) and when the toes or feet are pushed down.
The diagnosis of shin splints can usually simply be made on the basis of the symptoms, physical examination, shoe inspection and gait analysis.
In case of shin splints, the patient should stop running for some time. He or she should take three to twelve weeks rest until the pain has completely gone. In most people, shin splints will pass this way. During this rest period, one can do sports that load the shinbone minimally, such as aqua jogging, swimming and cycling. Most people with shin splints also benefit from remedial therapy with strength and stretching exercises (Cesar therapy or Mensendieck therapy).
In case of severe inflammations, anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed. With pain, a patient can put an ice pack against the leg or take painkillers. In case of very severe shin splints, with swelling muscles or tendons, surgery may be necessary. Then, no running is allowed for a long time.
If none of the treatments works, the patient must permanently stop running.
A person can fully recover from shin splints with rest and treatment. However, the condition may come back if the underlying cause of shin splints is not removed.
- To avoid suffering from shin splints (again), it’s important not to load the lower legs too much.
- Slowly build up running or walking training, especially when one has not been running or walking for some time.
- Run and jump preferably on a flat surface. Avoid hard surfaces, slopes and uneven trails.
- Wear proper shock-absorbing sports shoes. Prefer to alternate several pairs of sports shoes. Replace sports shoes in time.
- Use insoles or orthotics.
- Take care of your running style. Let a sports doctor look at it. Incorrect running or wrong shoes can cause shin splints.