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Shin Splints Slowing You Down? Here’s What to Do Next

Updated: Jun 6

By Dr. Bradley Ng, PT, DPT, CMTPT


As a young soccer and basketball player growing up, ‘shin splints’ were always one of my most common complaints. And it was not just limited to me, as several of my teammates growing up also had complaints of the famed ‘shin splints’. But at that age, we did not know much about what these pains across the front of our lower leg was, what was causing them, or what we could do to get rid of these painful aches.  It was not until my education as a physical therapist that I truly learned what ‘shin splints’ were, and how to treat them, so I am here today to teach more about this common injury and how we here at WiscoPT can help you get rid of them, and prevent them from ever coming back. 


What are Shin Splints?


Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS) is the scientific medical term for ‘shin splints’, and it describes a repetitive stress injury of the lower leg region. Shin splints are an overuse injury that may present with sharp or throbbing pain on the inside edge of your tibia.  They present in many different ways anatomically, whether it be microtears in the muscle, or just inflammation of that muscle, but fortunately all types of shin splints require the same or similar treatments. MTSS, if left untreated, can eventually lead to stress fractures, so knowing signs and symptoms of this condition is crucial for all athletes and active individuals. 





What Causes Shin Splints?


Shin splints are said to account for nearly 10-15% of all injuries in the athletic population, so naturally there are several different factors that may contribute to the development of this painful condition. These may include factors such as: 


  • Weakness in various lower body muscles such as the hips or the anterior tibialis 

  • Poor flexibility in the calf and other lower extremity areas

  • Having shoes that provide little support/cushioning, have poor fit, or are overworn.

  • Various training errors such as running on hard surfaces for too long, overtraining, or just rushing back into athletic activity too soon after a period of sedentary activity. 

  • Abnormal foot patterns when running


All of these factors are things that we as therapists will ask about during an orthopedic evaluation, and are crucial aspects that may need to be adjusted or changed in order to address and treat your pain. 


How Can We Treat Shin Splints? 


Athletes have typically been told to treat their shin splint symptoms with RICE (rest, ice compression, elevation). And although this treatment method may reduce symptoms temporarily, if those above-mentioned factors are not adjusted, symptoms may return as you return to activity. 


Research has shown that physical therapy is the best and most efficient first line of treatment to address shin splints. Our first step will be to identify the various risk factors through our thorough patient interview during your evaluation, in order to determine what changes may need to be made to your training program or running style. We will then use a combination of manual techniques and exercise to address muscular weakness and flexibility deficits that may be causing your pain. One of our most effective manual treatments to address shin splint pain is dry needling, which is a technique we will use to decrease pain and increase mobility in your lower extremity musculature.


All in all, shin splints are one of the most common injuries we see in the everyday athlete, and with physical therapy, not only can we treat your immediate pain, but you will leave with the education on how to prevent this injury from ever happening again. If you or someone you know is suffering from shin splints, please do not hesitate to give our office a call and we can get you started on your road to recovery!



References: 


Craig D. I. (2008). Medial tibial stress syndrome: evidence-based prevention. Journal of athletic training, 43(3), 316–318. https://doi.org/10.4085/1062-6050-43.3.316


Prentice, William. “Arnheim’s Principles of Athletic Training: A Competency-Based Approach” 2003 McGraw-Hill


Schulze, C., Finze, S., Bader, R., & Lison, A. (2014). Treatment of medial tibial stress syndrome according to the fascial distortion model: a prospective case control study. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2014, 790626. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/790626

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