Shin Splints - When Enough is Enough

Shin Splints - When Enough is Enough - Leading Edge Physiotherapy
shin splints

“Shin splints” refers to a painful condition which affects the lower part of your shin - typically on the inside edge, which worsens with running. It is also called a stress syndrome, specific to the medial tibia (termed MTSS). If left unchecked, it can develop into quite a nasty change in your bone structure - namely, a stress fracture.

A simple way of thinking of a stress fracture is to think of it as small cracks in your bone - i.e. splintering. Shin Splints can often start off quite mild, leading some keen runners to brush it off until it becomes much worse. The question then becomes: when is enough, enough?

Shin splints have a variety of contributing factors that can lead to its development. Examples include (but not exclusively):

  • foot posture
  • muscle strength
  • bone quality
  • running biomechanics

However, the most common cause is too much load. Quite simply, overtraining is enough to cause bony stress in an otherwise well functioning leg. Typical causes for the onset of Shin Splints are:

  • rapid increases in running distance or speed
  • increases in jumping and landing exercises

Without enough time to recover, the repetitive strain can begin to splinter the bone.

How is it treated?

Shin Splints are certainly not a condition that should be neglected. They have the potential - if left untreated - to physically crack the bone (which can take months to recover). So, to answer the question posed earlier - enough is enough when your walking also becomes painful. However, you could (and should!) shorten your recovery time by managing your load much earlier.

Load management requires a relative reduction in running or jumping until the pain settles. This doesn’t mean “stop doing everything”, but it might mean not running as far, or not playing as many minutes in a social sports game as you normally would.

To help manage the pain, you can:

  • ice the shin bone**
  • talk to your doctor or pharmacist about products to manage pain and inflammation
  • stretching your calves
  • seeing your physiotherapist or massage therapist
Ice massage shin

** A useful method for icing shin splints is to fill a small paper cup with water and freeze it. Once frozen, remove about the first centimetre of the cup and the exposed ice to massage the shin.

Once your pain has settled (for example, walking is no longer painful), you can then gradually increase your running load once more. Book in with your physiotherapist for more exercise specific advice to address any of the contributing factors mentioned earlier in this blog. They can also provide you with a more detailed running plan to get you back to your usual levels of sport and leisure.