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What are shin splints and what can I do about them?

Posted by Rebecca Kirk on June 27, 2014. 0 Comments

Shin splints is a generic umbrella term that can encompass a few different ailments. These can include stress fractures, muscle sprains and tendonitis. But we will focus on the two main culprits of ‘shin splints’.

Compartments Syndrome
Compartments syndrome occurs because the lower leg is divided into compartments. There are four compartments in the lower leg, anterior (at the front of the shin), lateral (on the outside of the shin), Superficial posterior and deep posterior (at the back of the shin). The compartments are actually divided by fascia (a thick strong fibrous tissue) this fascia will have some give, but is tough and therefore wont stretch and expand too much. This is were the problems can arise.

When muscles are put under increased demand and use (by running for example) the muscles swell and expand. Due to each compartment only having a finite amount of space, if the muscles swell and expand too much they have nowhere to expand to, creating a lot of pressure within the compartment. This in itself can be a bit uncomfortable, but the real problem is that this expansion and increased pressure can compress nerves and blood vessels. So as the muscles start doing more work due to exercise they then require more oxygen from the blood vessels, but the supply gradually becomes reduced due to the compression of the blood vessels as the muscles expand within the compartment.

This usually feels like the lower leg is ‘locking up’ and the muscles wont work properly. The symptoms usually get worse with increased activity and subside fairly quickly with rest.

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome 
This is probably more common, it tends to affect the lower third of the shin and can be painful during and after activity. This is caused by high force on the tibia (shin bone) The cause of the excessive force can be poor biomechanics (the way you’re built) things such as ‘bowed legs’ (tibial varum) can contribute and be part of this. Other contributing factors can be poor footwear without enough shock absorption, overuse/overtraining, terrain you run on, overuse of certain muscles in the lower limb due to poor form or biomechanics, tight muscles or weak muscles.

What can you do?!

Basically you’re going to be looking to take some of the pressure and strain off of the lower leg. This will usually be by reducing the impact and shock being transmitted to the muscles and lower limb. Or by stabilising the lower limb and making it more efficient. Or by strengthening, conditioning and stretching the lower limb. Or possibly a combination of all of them!

Easiest things and first things to do would be ice, rest/modify activity (switch a session that causes pain to something that doesn’t) and stretch. If problems persist make sure your footwear is suitable and look into treatment from a healthcare professional like a Podiatrist.

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