Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is originally known as the “microscopic pulling of muscle fibers away from the bone where the belly of the muscle attached directly to the bone” (Solomon, Soloman & Minton, 2005, p. 97). Shin splints are now generally known as a pain that generates from the knee to the ankle along the inner shinbone (tibia). Shin splints are very common in many runners, dancers, tennis players, and other athletes. The pain is caused by excessive amounts of force on the shinbone that can create small tears in the soft tissue connecting the muscle to the bone. This causes the muscles to become swollen and inflamed causing irritability and pain.
Typically the risk factors for shin splints can result from over-pronation (the flattening or rolling in of the foot), inadequate stretching or warming up, worn shoes, participating in sports that have quick stops and starts, and running on hard or uneven surfaces. Treatment usually requires rest, icing, elevation of the feet, gentle stretching, and in some conditions orthotics may be required. Try doing low-impact exercises instead such as swimming or biking as you let the shin splints heal, and slowly ease back into the more high impact exercises such as dancing and running. Prevention of shin splints can include adding exercises to your routine such as calve raises in order to strengthen the lower legs. For another prevention exercise, try walking on your heels for 30 seconds and walking regular for another 30 seconds a few times a day in order to recover and better prevention shin splints.
If the pain is constant even after general treatment, it is possible you have a more severe condition such as a stress fracture; which are often mistaken as shin splints. A stress fracture is more severe with a longer healing period. A stress fracture (also known as a fatigue or insufficiency fracture) is the overuse injury of the bone or a microfracture. Unlike a regular fracture the pain is not as severe or obvious; it becomes more painful with exercise and activity. The micro fracture becomes worse as the body attempts to heal itself and it becomes a repetitive circle until the injury has prevented the activity altogether. If you are able to run your fingers down the leg and find a definite point of pain, it is more likely it is a stress fracture than shin splints. Furthermore, a stress fracture will feel better in the morning after the body has rested overnight, whereas shin splints will be more painful in the morning because the soft tissue has tightened. Fortunately, the treatments for both conditions are relatively the same. Stress fractures, like the name suggests, needs rest as the bone attempts to heal itself and this can only be done if the stress that has caused the injury is removed. Rest and cross training is the best way to recovery.
If shin splints are a reoccurring problem it may be an anatomical issue (such as over-pronation) that may benefit from orthotics. Custom made orthotics are designed to align the foot and the ankle into a position that is anatomically efficient, meaning they correct your specific foot imbalance, and in doing so, stress and strain on your body including the lower leg will be significantly reduced. Here at the Madison Clinic North York, our chiropractor, Dr. Rodney will perform a gait scan (which is a computerized examination of the way you walk and stand) and if necessary (as required by some insurance plans) a casting of your foot as well. Your custom made orthotic insole is designed to your foot imprint and therefore will fit in most regular shoes that have a removable insole. The more often you wear your custom made orthotics the more benefit you will gain from them. Our provider at the Madison North York Clinic is the Orthotic Group, who offers different kind of orthotics to choose from, including orthotics designed for sports or activity.