Shin Splints

A very common injury for sports people and athletes is shin splints. It is a term that describes extreme pain in the shin bone or tibia, that gets worse when the person continues their sport or exercises. It not only is common in athletes but also dancers. The symptoms are tenderness and pain along the front of the lower leg. The longer the affected person continues exercising or practicing their sporting activity, the worse the pain gets, sometimes it continues after stopping, usually it stops when the activity stops. On other occasions the pain returns even after stopping the activity. There will be swelling on some occasions but not always.

Whenever this injury occurs, after stopping the activity, the next thing to do is to apply cold therapy in the form of ice (with a towel or other form of material barrier, never direct ice to skin contact) this can be applied for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, 3 to 5 times in a day for 2 to 5 days if needed. Pain killers can be used such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, but in most cases the affected person needs to see a doctor as soon as possible after the injury has been sustained.

The GP or sports injury specialist will do an examination, check the person's medical history and establish what was the cause of the injury. A clear link between the sports activity and the injury will often be established. There may also be fractures present and a more in- depth examination will usually follow, the doctor or specialist will normally request any or all of the following to establish the extent of the injury.

X rays, MRI and CT scan. An X ray will show up any fractures but not muscle or ligament damage, an MRI scan will detect any abnormalities in the actual soft tissue and a CT scan, which is a form of X ray which produces a 3D image of the shin bone.

You have to allow an average of 12 weeks for a shin splint injury to completely heal when there have been stress fractures, when the injury is less severe then the person can return to their sports activity sooner, provided they have had the right program of treatment.

Sometimes the injury can require surgery but this is relatively rare, if the pressure and pain is very extreme as in the case of compartment syndrome, there is an operation that can release the pressure on the lower leg muscles, called fasciotomy. Sometimes when the injury is accompanied by a stress fracture, an operation may be required but normally a program of massage, stretching and gentle exercise will help the injured person back to full recovery in a few weeks.

It is recommended that the injured person takes it easy and only very gradually increase the intensity of their exercise, if any signs of pain or tenderness return, then they should rest and reduce the level of activity before gradually increasing it again. Sometimes the individual may need to vary some aspects of their activity such as changing their running style, or using different running shoes, using orthodontic insoles. Changing to a softer running surface can also help to recover to full strength so if the person is used to running on roads and other hard surfaces running on grass will reduce the impact on their tendons.

Here is a link to a video on how to avoid shin splints -