Shin splints are a common injury that generally affects running athletes or people that participate in activities that involve cutting, pivoting or sudden starts and stops. Shin splints, medically known as "medial tibial stress syndrome" or tibial periostitis, is caused by overload of the muscles of the lower extremity or biomechanical irregularities. Generally, increased force is placed on the connective tissue that attaches your muscle to the shin bone causing pain.
Overload may occur secondary to multiple factors including muscle inflexibility, muscle imbalance, improper footwear or flat feet. Pain is generally a dull, aching feeling that occurs along the inside or outside aspect of the leg from the knee to the ankle. The area may swell or become tender to touch. Shin splints may occur during activities or exercise, and other times, a while after the activity has stopped. They may occur after increasing mileage, changing running surface or increasing the intensity of a workout regimen.
The treatment for shin splints usually involves icing the shin to reduce swelling and pain, anti-inflammatory medications, stretching exercises and balanced muscle strengthening. Depending on your biomechanics, orthotics or arch supports may help with flat feet.
Shin splints usually resolve with relative rest and conservative treatment. You should be pain-free before returning to your activities. You should return at a lower level of intensity and gradually increase the time and intensity of your exercise routine, while also warming up and stretching. If your pain recurs, rest, ice and stretch, and then return to training in a few days at a lower intensity and increase slower than before.
Medial tibial stress syndrome is a common injury but may mimic exertional compartment syndrome or stress fractures. It is important to have your physician perform a thorough history and physical exam. Sometimes, x-rays or further studies are needed especially if your symptoms persist or worsen.
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