Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), is a common term that describes pain along the front of the shin bone in the lower leg. The condition generally occurs with physical activity due to excessive force or pull on the tibia (shin bone) and the connective tissue attaching the muscles to this bone. This then leads to inflammation and irritation of the tibia causing pain on the inside of the lower leg. In more severe cases, stress fractures or compartment syndrome can occur.
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Shin splints are generally exercise-induced injuries caused by the overuse of the lower leg muscles. It is more common in high impact sports or those involving a lot of running and jumping, such as basketball, netball, and football. Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing shin splints, including:
- Abnormal biomechanics, such as overpronation “flat feet” or malalignment of the lower leg
- Poor flexibility in the calf muscles and Achilles tendon
- A recent increase in the intensity, duration, frequency or type of exercise
- Inappropriate training surfaces such as hard or uneven ground
- High impact sports, such as running, netball, tennis, dancing or athletics
- Poor running technique
- Inappropriate footwear or worn-out shoes
Our Physiotherapy team provide the assessment and treatment of sports injuries to many of our local state-level elite sporting teams. As such we are very well practised in the assessment of shin splints and provide highly effective treatment. Patients typically present with common symptoms, including:
- Pain along the inside of the shin bone (tibia)
- Worsening pain with continued activity, generally easing with rest
- Tenderness when touching the front of the shin
- The calf muscles may throb or ache
Once the underlying causal factors are determined, your physiotherapist will develop an individual treatment plan for your shin splints
The aim of treatment initially is to reduce inflammation and relieve pain. This can be achieved by:
- Rest. In less severe cases reducing normal exercise may suffice, however in many cases full rest from impact exercises will be required. Swimming or cycling are examples of non-impact exercises.
- Icing after activity
- Correction of abnormal biomechanics, using custom made orthotics, taping, strengthening or stretching
- Physiotherapy treatment may include ultrasound, deep connective tissue massage, dry needling acupuncture, footwear advice and a specific home exercise programme aimed at stretching and strengthening muscles of the lower limb including a gradual return to activity as appropriate
Shin splints generally respond well to rest and treatment. Provided treatment recommendations are followed, six weeks would be the average time frame for return to sport and normal activity.