What are Shin Splints/Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome?
Shin splints are an overstressing of the shin bone, the tibia, and of the surrounding muscles and connective tissues. You may hear this condition referred to as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). MTSS is an exertional injury when too much stress is placed upon the bone and surrounding structures without having given the stressed area enough time to heal after the last bout of activity. Hence, overuse.
What Causes Shin Splints?
Shin splints are always caused by overuse, although it may not seem like it. Anatomical abnormalities may be the root cause – but this is still causing overuse. Those anatomic abnormalities (genu varum, genu valgum, flat feet, etc..) will cause an imbalance and thus overuse of certain muscles.
It is what is causing the overuse of the muscles and bones in the case of Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome that needs to be properly diagnosed. Not the overuse itself, that’s a given. Shin splints may be a result of a significant amount of running or participating in a new activity that stresses your lower leg more than it is prepared to be stressed. This could include a brand-new activity or a significant increase in an activity that you are used to, such as adding a few miles to a run. Shin splints can result from wearing improperly fitting footwear which in turn cause the muscles in your lower leg to overwork in response to the ill-fitting footwear. You’ve heard of ‘flat feet.’ Flat feet, medically called pes planus, can be a culprit leading to shin splints as the incorrect anatomical position of your feet is causing the muscles to do more work than usual. Improper warming up before physical activity is another cause of shin splints as is running on uneven ground
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Symptoms of MTS
A hallmark sign of Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, or MTSS, is pain in the area of your shins at the beginning of activity. Often, this pain from shin splints will gradually dissipate as training continues or upon cessation of the activity. As the injury progresses, it takes less and less time after beginning an activity that pain begins. The symptoms may be located in only one leg but are usually present in both legs at the same time.
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How to Relieve Shin Splint Pain
Shin splints need to be carefully evaluated and managed. The intervention that will relieve shin splint pain will be different for every person that presents with this condition. No two cases of Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome will present the same.
Treatments may be as simple as fitting a custom orthotic to your feet or replacing old, worn-out running shoes in order to correct stress imbalances placed on muscles. If an orthopedic abnormality is not found to be a contributing factor, then a plan of strengthening and stretching all muscles of the legs is in order to maintain strength and flexibility and prepare the lower to properly handle greater loads. Strengthening the core is also an important consideration when treating shin splints. If ordered a course of physical therapy, there are modalities that may be used that can decrease pain and inflammation and help speed up the healing process.