Shin splints1, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, occurs when you push your leg muscles too hard. As a result, you feel pain in your lower leg, along the shin bone, which is the tibia, located at the front of the leg. Normally, the pain will arise when you overuse your muscles, say after an intense run or dance routine or tremendous exercises such as for military recruits. This could be as a result of spiking stress fractures2 in the tibia due to soft tissue pulling away from the shin from the muscle overuse or as a result of swelling of the tendons connecting the shin and muscles. Shin splint is not necessarily a grave condition, but it can slow you down due to the aggravating pain you will feel. Good news is that, with appropriate home self-care, modification in an exercise routine and wearing the appropriate footwear will prove beneficial in relieving shin splints.
How Do You Know If You Have Shin Splints Or Not?3
To determine whether you have shin splints, the doctor will run a few tests, here and there, to locate the cause of pain in your tibia. Diagnosis of shin splints can be done either doing an X-ray, electromyographical (EMG) test, ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test. A combination of these testing procedures can also be done to clearly define the cause and location of pain, in cases of stress fractures. An X-ray is meant to determine whether there is a stress fracture while an EMG test is for examining the functionality of the nerves around the tibia. The ultrasound is for checking for any blood clots whereas the MRI testing is meant to provide a pictorial outlay of your leg muscles and soft tissues, to determine which of the two is causing pain in the shin.
A physical exam may also be necessary, which you can also perform on your own, to determine whether you have shin splints or not. You can run a smooth physical exam by first identify what kind of pain you are feeling around your tibia. According to people who have had shin splints, one feels a vague aching pain, or sharp localized pain if there is a stress fracture. The next step involves monitoring the pain, especially when you start to engage in certain routines. When does the pain occur? At the beginning of an exercise or during the routines? Finally, you can try and locate the exact place on your leg, where the pain is stemming from. If there is a specific place where the pain arises, then you probably have a stress fracture.
How Can You Develop Shin Splints?4
The underlying causes for stress in your shin could vary depending on what routines and exercises you are involved in. You can develop shin splints if you:
- Over training, especially a few weeks before a major competition or event you are participating in.
- Go on with your routines for a longer period than normal.
- Increase the intensity of your training exercise by indulging in procedures that require more strength.
- Are inconsistent, in the sense that you engage in strenuous exercises after a day or two of rest. Similarly, if you are a novice and start out on intense exercises, you increase your risk of developing shin splints.
- Exercise on hard, rough or uneven surfaces.
- Run or dance in inappropriate footwear such as heels or in improper footwear such as worn out training shoes.
- Perform a routine or exercise in the wrong way, thus putting unnecessary pressure on your shin muscles.
Shin splints may not be a serious medical condition, but it is important that you take care of the pain to avoid any serious complications. Worst case scenarios, your leg can develop vulnerability in the area of the pain, increasing the risk of recurrence of shin splints often. To ease the pain experience with shin splints, you can try using ice compression on your leg, several times a day until the pain disappears. You could also try heat compression, say using a clean cloth submerged in hot water to ease the underlying pain. Other than that, ensure you let your leg rest enough and ease up on the exercises.