The term ‘Shin Splints’ is the general name for pain experienced in the shin area. However, there can be more than one cause for this pain and it is important to know what the cause of your pain is in order that it be appropriately treated. The three main conditions that could be causing you problems are:
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) – This is the main condition that is usually referred to as ‘shin splints’ and is caused by inflammation and irritation of the tissues around the shin bone, which in turn causes pain across a large area (5cm+) of the shin. MTSS is usually caused by excessive impact to the legs, for example over-training, poor trainer support, training on overly hard surfaces or most commonly, issues such as tightness or weakness in other muscles/structures within the leg. Ways to reduce the pain could be reducing your training schedule, swapping to soft surfaces or lower impact exercises and checking your footwear is appropriate for your activity. For longer term improvement or elimination of the issue, a regular massage, stretch and strengthening programme should be followed to maintain optimum support and function of your legs.
Compartment Syndrome – Chronic Compartment Syndrome is where a muscle becomes quickly enlarged (primarily through over-exercise), stressing its outer fascial tissue – or its ‘compartment’, which has been unable to keep up with the rapid enlargement of the muscle it contains. This results in pressure on the fascia surrounding the muscle, causing pain which can fluctuate depending on severity and level of activity. Decreasing the level of activity you do can be a first step to alleviating the symptoms, however sports massage or physiotherapy will be needed to really get on top of the issue. It is important with injuries like this to remember that the body is one whole system that works in synchronicity and for best results this whole system, along with your training schedule, should be considered in planning your recovery schedule. In the most persistent of cases, surgery could be an option.
Stress Fracture – If the pain you are experiencing is particularly acute, and contained to a very precise area on the shin you may have a stress fracture. The best way to properly diagnose this is with a bone scan, and it is advised to see either your GP or visit A&E depending on the severity of your injury.