What are shin splints?
Shin splints tend to be the name given to exercise induced pain in the lower leg, specifically along the front of the leg between the knee and the ankle, the area known as the shin.
Shin splints are really a symptom rather than a specific diagnosis because they are probably caused by a number of different problems. Shin splints are one of the most common problems in the lower leg in people who exercise or play sports.
In typical shin splints, pain is felt more over the medial (inner) part of your shin. Pain felt over the lateral (outer) part of your shin may not be due to shin splints and may be due to a compartment syndrome in your leg.
Shin splints are sometimes called medial tibial stress syndrome.
What causes shin splints?
Experts do not all agree on the cause of shin splints and the exact cause is not known. They are thought to be caused by overuse or overactivity and typically occur in runners. There are certain things that have been suggested that may make shin splints more likely. These include:
- A sudden increase in training frequency or intensity.
- A lack of calcium.
- Hard running surfaces.
- Running up an incline
- Previous leg injury.
- Poorly fitted or inadequate running shoes that do not support the foot and ankle.
- Various problems with muscles in the lower leg and foot position, including over-pronation of the foot.
(The foot (and ankle) normally roll slightly inward when we move. Over-pronation is where the foot rolls inward more than normal.)
Some experts suggest that shin splints are caused by small tears in the membrane structure between the two bones of the leg below the knee (the tibia and fibula). This structure is called the interosseous membrane. Others suggest that they may also be caused by inflammation of tendons (tendonitis), muscle sprains, or inflammation of the membrane surrounding the tibia and fibula bones (periostitis). Tiny fractures (microfractures) in the surface of the tibia bone have also been suggested as a cause.
What are the symptoms of shin splints?
The main symptom is pain in the shin area. The pain tends to be in the middle and lower shin and on the medial (inner) half. Pain first comes on after running or exercising. However, over time, the pain can come on during running or exercising. If severe, it may also come on when climbing stairs.