What is it?
The term shin splints refers to pain that develops along the front of your shin (the tibia bone) and is also known as anterior or posterior tibial stress syndrome depending on which muscles are affected. It is typically an overuse injury that results from over training and is commonly seen in runners, dancers, and people in military boot camp. Repeated activity causes muscle fatigue, and with fatigue additional force is placed on the facial tissue (the tissue that attaches muscle to bone) of the lower leg. Early in the condition, pain is experienced at the beginning of a training session and disappears as the exercising continues. As the injury progresses, the episodes of pain tend to increase in frequency and intensity.
With repeated stress-related injuries, the bone itself can be affected and may eventually develop what is referred to as a stress fracture. The pain associated with a stress fracture will be sharp and focused on a very small area of your bone. Stress fractures are more serious and typically require you to restrict your activities to ensure proper healing.
What are the treatment options?
Treatment of shin splints involves rest and often requires you to completely stop training for a period of time. It’s important to follow your doctor’s guidance. Your doctor may recommend that you take anti-inflammatory medications or use cold packs and mild compression to relieve the pain. A physical therapy evaluation may be needed to check for muscle imbalance or abnormal training mechanics. For severe conditions that do not respond to the usual treatment, surgery may be an option. However, a full return to sports is not always achieved following surgery.
You are at in increased risk for shin splints if you:
- Are a runner, especially at the start of a new running program
- Suddenly increase the duration, frequency or intensity of exercise
- Run on uneven terrain, such as hills, or hard surfaces such as concrete
- Are in military training
- Are an aerobic dancer
- Have flat feet or abnormally rigid arches
Rehabilitation Plan - Exercises
Physical therapy treatment will vary based upon findings of you evaluation, but may include recommendations for orthotics, modalities for pain relief, instruction in stretching exercises for the foot, ankle or leg and instruction in strengthening exercises to address in deficits.