Shin Splints: Acute pain in the shin and lower leg.
Shin splints are a lower extremity health problem involving pain and tenderness along or behind the inner edge of the lower two-thirds of the tibia—the larger of the two bones in the lower leg. Shin splints commonly occur following vigorous physical activity, including endurance exercise and other sports involving running. Shin splints occur when certain muscles and tendons as well as the periosteum—a membrane that covers the outer surface of all bones, including the tibia—become inflamed.
Shin splints are a common lower extremity problem, especially among athletes. Most athletes experience shin splints at some point during their lives. Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing shin splints, including:
- Flat feet
- Abnormally rigid foot arches
- Certain running or jogging training errors
- Participation in dance and/or military training
The underlying cause of shin splints usually dictates the specific location of the symptoms, but most people with this health problem experience pain or discomfort along both sides of the tibia or in the nearby lower extremity muscles.
Signs & Symptoms
Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with shin splints include:
- Mild swelling in the lower leg
- Tenderness in the lower leg, near the tibia
- Pain or a dull ache in the lower leg, near the tibia
- Lower leg pain that’s felt most acutely in the early stages of physical activity
Shin splints pain may wax and wane during physical activity. In many cases, shin splints pain during an activity causes abandonment of that activity.
The pain associated with shin splints is caused by a disruption of Sharpey’s fibers—collagenous fibers that connect lower leg fascia to the tibia’s periosteum. The impact forces that occur during repetitive stress (especially in poor footwear) cause lower leg fatigue and tibial bending or bowing, which leads to shin splints. This problem is compounded when running uphill, downhill, on hard surfaces, or on uneven terrain.
Irritated and swollen muscles associated with overuse, foot arch collapse associated with flat feet or overpronation, and stress fractures (small, hairline breaks) in the lower leg bones and all possible causes of shin splints or pain in the lower extremity.
The true underlying cause of shin splints, however, is inappropriate footwear, including shoes that possess the following design characteristics:
Rapid changes in physical activity levels, especially in combination with poor footwear choices, are a significant contributor to this health problem. Running longer than usual distances, boosting the number of days exercised per week, changing the surface run or exercised on, and suddenly increasing the volume or intensity of hill workouts can all place significant stress on lower extremity tissues and lead to shin splints, even in trained athletes.
Shin splints may self-resolve, though they are likely to recur if the underlying factors that cause this health problem are not dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner. Treatment for shin splints falls into two distinct categories: Immediate and long-term.
Immediate treatment measures include:
- Taping procedures
- Elevating the affected leg
- Applying heat rub to the involved area
- Stretching the Achilles tendon and anterior lower leg muscles
Long-term treatment measures, to help prevent the recurrence of shin splints, include:
- Using metatarsal pads
- Adopting an appropriate training plan
- Performing ankle and calf strengthening exercises
- Wearing compression socks during athletic activity
- Wearing men's and women's foot-healthy footwear that's shaped like a natural foot
- Performing key stretches before and after physical activity, especially the Toe Extensor Stretch
- Restoring natural toe splay using Correct Toes toe spacers. The splayed-toe configuration enabled by Correct Toes encourages a lower-impact gait pattern, which in turn reduces stress on the periosteum