Running into pain? What are Shin splints

Kate Niederer – Physiotherapist at Bureta Physio explains

As the days get longer, lighter and warmer, many of us shift our attention to the great outdoors and getting moving in time for summer. Often we go gung ho in a running regime, which is great for cardio fitness but our body tissues which have been in hibernation over winter, aren’t quite ready for the increase in load and this can set us up for a number of over load issues. Shin splints being one of them.

Shin splints is a generic term for any pain at the front of shin. The most common is medial pain (inside shin). This pain is caused by bone stress, inflammation at the insertion of the muscle into the shin bone and/or an increase in muscle compartment pressure.

Generally an overload issue caused by:

footwear
training surfaces
increase volume/load of training
biomechanics
running technique

The muscle involved (tibialis posterior) attaches into the bone along the length of the shin. When this muscle is overloaded or works to hard, it pulls on the bone causing an inflammatory reaction. With continued loading, the outer layer of the bone can pull away and if the load continues, can develop into a stress fracture – this is why it is so important to get it treated as soon as symptoms present!

The goal of treatment is too reduce pain/inflammation/compartment pressure by limiting the amount the muscle pulls on the bone. We look above and below the injury site to find WHY the muscle is pulling on the bone.

Causes:

rigid foot – decreased shock absorption
over pronation -> medial muscles work harder and longer from lengthened position -> muscle fatigues ->decreased shock absorption -> chronic traction of muscle on bone -> inflammation -> stress #/compartment syndrome
tight calf muscles
ankle instability from previous sprains
poor glut and core control

Specific investigation is required to determine the exact cause of pain and therefore the treatment required. There are many treatment options available but which is most effective for you will be dependent on the CAUSE of muscle stress.

Treatment options that we can help with include:

Ice massage
Rest
Managing training load, talking to coach/physio, pain-free cross-training
calf stretching/rolling (plantarfascia and calf)
massage/trigger point/acupuncture/Dry needling
Footwear/orthotics/strapping
Running analysis, running drills
Strengthening programme – usually targeting gluts/core to improve control lower down chain. A Muscle Balance Assessment can be useful to determine muscle imbalances

If you get onto it quickly, this issue can resolve quickly, otherwise, if a stress fracture develops, it can take much longer (up to months of rest (no running)) to settle.

If you do have any of these symptoms, try some of these remedies, otherwise come and see one of the excellent physios here at Bureta (we specialise in biomechanical analysis and treatment of overload issues) so we can work together to get it settled sooner rather than later! And remember, if you are starting an exercise programme coming into summer, build in to it to allow your muscles time to adapt or have a chat to us about the safest way to start your fitness regime.

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