Shin splints

Shin splints

What are shin splints?

Shin splints, also known as ‘periostitis’, is a frequent injury characterised by pain on the inside of the shin bone. In athletes, it is one of the most common causes of pain from leg exertion. Although it is rarely a serious condition, it can still be quite hampering in a person’s everyday life if it is not treated correctly.

 

What are the symptoms of shin splints?

The most common complaint by patients with shin splints is vague, diffusing pain in the lower two-thirds of the front of the lower leg along the inside of the median line. In the early stage, heavy training worsens the pain, and later, when the inflammation has worsened, the pain will appear at progressively lower and lower activity, and in the end the pain may occur even while you rest.  

 

What are the causes of shin splints?

Shin splints are caused by an inflammatory condition in the muscles and the tendon attachment of the muscles on the front of the lower leg. The inflammatory reaction is a result of these muscles being overworked. The exertion can be due to several factors, such as incorrect positioning and certain types of sports.

Mistakes in people’s training techniques are often involved in the development of shin splints, and this especially refers to athletes who try to overachieve. Common to these mistakes is that they usually include a recently increased activity, intensity and/or duration. Prolonged and repeated exercises, i.e. running, are frequent causes of inflammation in the tendon attachment of the muscle on the periosteum which surrounds the bone. The inflammatory reaction results in the formation of scar tissue and thickening of the periosteum, which contributes to the pain.

The disease can also be a complication to other diseases, such as stress fractures or chronically reduced blood supply to the calf muscles. Moreover, people with incorrectly positioned legs, which involves knock knees and an outer rotated calf, have an increased risk of developing the shin splints.

 

What are the treatments for shin splints?

The treatment of shin splints usually involves relieving the leg of strain, which includes resting it and doing stretching exercises of the muscles on a regular basis. You can choose to train other muscle groups of the body to avoid becoming inactive. The medical treatment consists ‘NSAID’ painkillers or analgesic gel.

When the pain begins to subside, you can slowly begin to rehabilitate your leg muscles. Here, it is important to focus on changing your old training routines and to deal with any potential incorrect positions. You can consider consulting a physiotherapist who can point out any overloading exercises or incorrect techniques and provide advice on how to correct these as well as alternative exercises. If you are a runner, it is recommended to reduce the distance, the frequency and the intensity. It is also important that you have a decent pair of shock absorbing shoes, and that you avoid running on hills as well las uneven and hard foundations.

If the conservative treatment is ineffective after a minimum of 3 months, you can consider if an operation would be beneficial. In such an operation, the surgeon will cleave the surrounding muscle of the membrane to give the muscle more space. After the operation, the leg is wrapped in a compressive bandage for 8-10 days, and after 4-6 weeks, you can usually begin to resume the rehabilitation. The operation is successful in more than 80 % of the cases.

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