Whether you’re an avid runner or casual stroller, shin splints can be incredibly frustrating. The pain can range from a dull ache during exercise to a sharp, debilitating pain that stops you in your tracks. When allowed to progress uninhibited, shin pain can take the joy out of staying active.
If you’ve ever had to buy milk you might have found that milk isn’t just milk. Milk could be full fat, low-fat, almond or soy just to name a few. The same goes for cheese, wine, chocolate and in health care, shin splints. Why? Shin splints isn’t technically a diagnosis. Although some people use the term to describe a condition called medial tibial syndrome. Others use shin splints as an umbrella term for convenience to describe a whole host of different shin pain conditions such as compartment syndrome and tibial stress fracture, some of which can develop into a medical emergency when ignored. To up the ante, some of the conditions can even coexist or evolve into other conditions. Each stress condition results from injury to a particular anatomical location. For example, shin pain can come from the bone itself, the surrounding muscles or the point at which the muscle attaches to the shin bone.
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome is an inflammatory reaction along the inside edge of the shin bone (tibia) where the muscle attaches to the bone causing irritation, pain and even swelling.
Tibial Stress fracture is a small crack in the shin bone (tibia) like a crack in a crystal glass or windscreen; with repetitive or excessive loading this crack can worsen and cause considerable pain.
Exertional Compartment Syndrome occurs when the pressure in the muscle compartments rises to an abnormal level preventing new blood carrying oxygen and nutrients from reaching the muscles causing pain.
There are a number of possible causes of shin splints but they are usually considered to be related to overuse. When we participate in weight-bearing activity (e.g. running, jumping) our legs are subjected to compressive forces. As you land, the weight of your upper body drives through your lower limbs, sandwiching them between the ground and your upper body. The force of the weight above drives through your shin bone, like the force of a hammer through a fence picket. In addition, as you move, the muscles in your legs contract and release, causing them to pull along the edge of the shin bone where they attach.
Under normal circumstances, weight-bearing activity occurs without any adverse effects. The lower limbs are able to work in harmony with the feet and the rest of the body and are able to successfully withstand these demands. However, when the strain on the lower limbs becomes repetitive and/or excessive it can exceed the body’s ability to absorb or accomodate these forces, causing injury. High arches, flat feet leg length differences, repetitive impact sports (e.g. running, gymnastics), training too much, too hard, too soon, shoe wear are just a few examples of possible sources of repetitive and/or excessive strain on the body.
It isn’t unusual for shin pain to be the result of multiple conditions caused by a condition of different causative or contributory factors. Although this means that isolating the most likely cause isn’t always easy, with a little patience, the skill of a trusted podiatrist and your feedback about your symptoms and process, we can usually narrow down the list of possible reasons for your shin pain.
Shin splint treatment really depends on the type of shin splint you’re dealing with. Once you have a better idea of the type of shin splints you have, navigating the wide range of treatment options becomes less overwhelming. Getting to this point starts with seeking a professional diagnosis. Although the term shin splints sounds relatively innocuous, given that it can include conditions such as stress fractures and those that require prompt medical attention, shin pain should’t be ignored.
Until you know exactly which type of shin pain you’re dealing with, it is advisable to err on the side of caution and avoid aggravating the condition until you receive a professional diagnosis. Some conditions can be incredibly similar in their symptom history and even overlap. Our podiatrists can provide assistance in detecting the subtle and not so subtle differences in signs and symptoms of the list possible shin pain conditions so you can find a treatment strategy that best suits your needs. Our podiatrists can then help you by providing treatment in the context of their experience and skill where podiatry related causes are identified. For non-podiatry causes that require the expertise of other health professionals, our podiatrists can point you in the direction of additional help for your shin pain.
Whether you suspect you have shin splints or have been previously diagnosed with shin splints, our Brisbane podiatrists can help you find your diagnosis using clues from your injury history, examination findings and imaging or clinical tests if necessary. We can then find out which of the different treatment options could be suitable for your type of shin splints.
Always Consult a Trained Professional
The information above is general in nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subject matter covered. It is not a substitute for medical advice and you should always consult a trained health professional in relation to any injury. You use or rely on the information above at your own risk and no party involved in the production of this resource accepts any responsibility for the information contained within it or your use
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