What Are Shin Splints?
The term “shin splints” is frequently used in the world of sports medicine, and it actually refers to a general symptom rather than a specific diagnosis. Shin splints refer to a symptom of pain over the front of the tibia bone, which is located in the lower leg. Patients will often describe shin splints as a dull, aching type of pain located around the inside of their tibia bone. Patients with shin splints might exhibit swelling in this area as well.
This localized pain can have a variety of causes. The pain might be related to problems of the muscle, bone, or tendons attaching the muscle to the bone. The most common cause of shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), which is an overuse or repetitive-stress injury of the shin area. In fact, some people use the term “shin splints” to refer to MTSS. With MTSS, the lower leg is essentially unable to heal properly in response to repetitive muscle contractions and tibial strain. Stress fractures (which can themselves be caused by MTSS) are, of course, another potential cause of shin splints. And then there is exertional compartment syndrome, also known as exercise induced compartment syndrome, where a patient will experience pain after a period of intense activity followed quickly by a period of rest. In this case, the pain is caused by a pressure build-up within the muscles surrounding the tibia.
In short, most cases of shin splints can be traced to some sort of overuse.
Some people are more prone to developing shin splints than others. Those who overpronate, for example, are more susceptible to developing shin splints. When with overpronation the feet have a tendency to roll inwards, it creates more stress on the muscle over the front of the leg. (This is one reason why many sports medicine specialists will tell you it’s so important to get shoes that properly address your arch and pronation type.) Of course, if you are an athlete who exercises more intensely on a regular basis and is involved in high demand training, you are also more susceptible to developing shin splints. MTSS in particular seems to develop more frequently in those who suddenly increase their duration or intensity of training.
Since lower leg pain is so often traced to overuse, one of the best things you can do to prevent shin splints is to give your body ample rest after strenuous exercise. Cross training can be a good idea when you want to tone down the activity that is causing stress to your lower legs while still maintaining an active lifestyle. As mentioned previously, another thing that might reduce your chance of developing shin splints is getting the right footwear for your particular foot arch and pronation type.