Shin splints, also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), are a common condition frequently seen among runners and athletic individuals. It is characterized by a deep aching pain in the back and on the inside of the leg during or after physical activity. Those who have experienced this condition can tell you it can be very frustrating and difficult to get better. Shin splints are an overuse injury of the muscles of the leg, which support the foot and ankle. There are multiple factors which can be involved in the development of shin splint pain:
1) A sudden increase in activity level, particularly running
2) Running on hard surfaces, uneven or hilly terrain that increases muscle stress
3) Wearing excessively worn shoe-gear during athletic activity
4) Structural problems of the foot and ankle including flatfeet, high arches and tightness of the calf muscle and Achilles tendon
5) Taking up activities that involve sudden changes of direction i.e. tennis or basketball
If the pain associated with shin splints is persistent and does not improve over several weeks, medical attention should be sought. It is important to rule out other more serious conditions such as a stress fracture or compartment syndrome of the lower extremity. Your doctor may order tests such as x-rays, MRI or a bone scan to evaluate for other conditions.
The treatment for shin splints generally involves rest, patience and a few other factors:
1) Activity modification-choose activities that involve less repetitive trauma to the leg such as swimming or biking
2) Get a new pair of supportive, structured running sneakers-sneakers should be replaced every 300 miles or as wear on the tread of the shoe starts to show
3) Oral anti-inflammatories such as Motrin or Aleve
4) Shoe inserts-the best option is a custom made foot orthotic which is specifically made for your foot and the condition that you are being treated for stretching exercises to reduce tightness in the calf and foot musculature
Most patients with shin splints will get the pain to resolve with some combination of the above treatments. The problem can become recurrent without proper attention to maintenance. It is important to wear good supportive sneakers, preferably with custom made orthotics and to stretch regularly both before and after physical activities.