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Shin Splints

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Shin splints – also referred to as ‘medial stress syndrome’ – describes pain which is felt between the knee and ankle, along the inner edge of the shinbone. It is often suffered by athletes who participate in sports involving lots of running or jumping. Likewise, tennis players and dancers are also prone to this injury.

Active Release Technique, fascia manipulation and taping can generally help to ease the pain of shin splints.

Quick facts

Fairly common
Low difficulty to treat

Did you know?

Shin splints account for approximately 13% to 17% of all running-related injuries

source: Wikipedia

Shin splints are a common injury amongst runners, dancers, tennis players and even military personnel when going through their basic training. The exact cause of shin splints is still unknown, however there are a number of factors which are generally accepted to be contributors to the condition.

Athletes who push themselves beyond their fitness capabilities often suffer from shin splints, as well as those who participate in high-impact activities performed on hard surfaces or without proper protection such as shock-absorbing shoes or compression bandages. Shin splints are considered to be an injury provoked by ‘overuse’ and can sometimes be avoided by gradually increasing exercise intensity over time rather than at once.

Treatments like Active Release Technique, fascia manipulation and taping can generally help to ease the pain of shin splints.

Causes of shin splints

Although the exact cause of shin splints is unknown, there are a number of factors that are thought to contribute to this condition, including:

  • Overuse of the muscles
  • Exercising beyond current level of fitness
  • Poor (running) technique
  • Improper footwear
  • Running or exercising on hard surfaces, such as asphalt
  • Overpronation (flat feet)
  • Stress fractures in the lower leg bones

Other symptoms of shin splints

Shin splints usually affect only one leg at a time, although it’s not impossible for both shins to be affected. The pain is generally described by sufferers as ‘dull’ at first, but over time it can become more painful if left untreated. The pain is more generalized rather than isolated to a specific area – this is usually indicative of a stress fracture rather than shin splints.
Athletes who suffer from shin splints will often experience the following symptoms:

  • Dull ache along the shinbone
  • Tenderness along the shinbone
  • General pain, as opposed to localised pain
  • Pain which feels worse the following day, due to the skin tightening
  • Pain which eases during the course of a workout and returns towards the end
  • Red or swollen skin around affected area
  • Shin pain which becomes increasingly worse over time if left untreated

Top tips for preventing shin splints

  • ensure you wear proper footwear when exercising
  • always perform warm up and cool down exercises when doing physical activity
  • when running, choose softer, flatter surfaces to minimise the impact on your shins
  • don’t go too hard to fast – gradually increase exercise intensity over time, to match your fitness levels
  • consider inserting shock-absorbing orthotics into your shoes
  • consider using taping or bandaging your legs, to bind your tendons to the shin
  • alternate high-impact sports with low-impact cross training activities

Effective treatment of shin splints

In most cases, shin splints can be effectively treated at home, by following some simple guidelines:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Use an icepack on your shins
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers
  • Perform strengthening exercises
  • Use orthotic insoles
  • Stick to low-impact exercise during recovery
  • Gradually return to exercise

A gait and mechanics assessment and an understanding about how you utilise your body in your chosen sport will help a professional to provide a customised and comprehensive rehabilitation schedule for you if you sufferer from shin splints. This may include the usage of manual therapies (on muscles, ligaments, capsules, nerves, bones) such as Active Release Technique or fascia manipulation and taping.

In extreme cases, sometimes doctors will recommend Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) or even surgery.

This page has been produced, reviewed and approved by:

Dr Shermain Wong

BAppSc (Chiropractic), Masters (Clinical Chiropractic)

Photo of Dr Shermain Wong

Dr Shermain Wong is a chiropractor at Jurmaine Health with expertise in general treatment and over 6 years experience.

With a Masters in Clinical Chiropractic from RMIT University, Shermain has provided chiropractic and movement rehabilitation services at international sporting competitions, professional dancers, professional football players and professional athletes.

At Jurmaine Health, she helps patients address and treat common musculoskeletal symptoms and conditions, including back pain, neck pain; shoulder pain; nerve pain, joint pain and many other conditions

She is a member of Sport Medicine Australia, College of Osteopathy and Chiropractic Association, Australian Association of Musculoskeletal Medicine and International Society of Clinical Rehabilitation Specialists.

With her experience in Sports Medicine and treating Sports Injuries, she is a sought after expert for professional athletes and sports clubs. She has worked with the Coburg Lions VFL club, Melbourne Ice Hockey Women, World Ironman Championships, Australia CrossFit Regionals and others.

This document was last updated and reviewed in May 2016.

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