With running season well and truly underway, lots of little niggles (or not so little) aches and pains may be showing up in your training before or after these big runs. One common, and quite often debilitating issue we see a lot of during running festival times is the dreaded shin splints.

WHAT IS SHIN SPLINTS?

Shin pain, shin splints and Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome are all common terms generally referring to pain felt along the anterior (front) medial (inside) part of the lower leg. While typically experienced by runners, it can affect athletes across various sports. Shin splints itself is a loose term and generally involves one (but can often have several or all) of three pathologies - bone stress, inflammation and/or increased compartment pressure in the leg.

SOME CAUSES OF SHIN SPLINTS

  • Overpronation: with excessively pronated feet (flat feet or rolling in feet) the mechanics of your feet aren't working to their potential and a pulling force is creating overstretch which results in muscle fatigue and inflammation
  • Rigid/cavus (high arch) foot type: with a high arched or rigid foot structure, the shock of the foot hitting the ground in running isn't absorbed as well as those who roll in a little more and this may result in that shock being sent up the shin increasing impact pressure causing bone stress
  • Tight muscles: tightness paritcularly in the calf muscles can limit the ankle dorsiflexing (lifting upwards) and increase the amount of pronation (rolling in) leading to more internal twist of the tibia causing strain/inflammation
  • Weak muscles: weakness in the tibialis anterior muscle (a muscle that helps to lift the foot up) loses some of its strength to slow down/decelerate foot pronation causing the foot to slap to the ground
  • Increased compartment pressure: overuse and inflammation of the muscles in each of the compartments in the leg cause the leg to become swollen and painful. This can easily escalate to a more serious medical emergency if not diagnosed and treated.
  • Match fitness: increasing training or increasing intensity too much or too quickly can cause stress or inflammation that makes shin pain very sore - think "too much, too soon"
  • Footwear:  worn out, tired or overused sports shoes (joggers) could contribute to some of the already mentioned problems. Did you know that there are certain types of sports shoes for certain foot types and specific sports? You could be in the wrong type of sport shoe...
  • Running surfaces:  uneven or downhill surfaces put undue stress on the feet and lower legs so may increase problems with your running

WHAT CAN I DO TO TREAT SHIN SPLINTS?

The treatment for shin splints really does depend on what the cause of the shin pain is. Initially, rest is important. However, the Australian Institute of Sport argue that total rest can be worse for injury and suggest a restriction of activity - so maybe walking, cycling or swimming instead of running (keeping your fitness up but reducing the amount of shock and force that running may cause). Applying icepacks and using anti-inflammatory medications can help with the pain caused by inflammation. Some of our podiatrists here at Freeman Podiatry can offer treatments which include dry needling and mobilisation which may help in the treatment of your shin pain. 

Our podiatrists can also assess your feet and sports shoes during a biomechanical assessment to help address some of the biomechanical causes (overpronation, foot type, footwear) that may be causing your shin pain and rule out more serious concerns such as a stress fracture causing the pain. Sometimes we may need to implement the use of foot orthotics to assist your foot function and alignment to reduce the stress of forces that are causing shin pain.

If you or somebody you know has been experiencing shin pain, consider podiatry as your first port of call and book in for a biomechanical assessment with one of our podiatry team today.