Shin splints are common
Do you experience pain in your shins when you’re running? How about when you go on long walks? You may have shin splints, a common injury seen in runners and even long-distance walkers. If the pain—which can feel like soreness, a dull ache, or sharp pain—continues even when you’re walking or not moving at all, you may have a more severe case. Here’s what you should know about shin splints, including how to recognise the symptoms, why they occur, how to treat them, and what you need to do to keep this overuse injury at bay.
What are shin splints?
Shin splints are a common injury for runners, both new and seasoned alike. They can also happen to dancers, long-distance walkers, and people who have flat feet or exercise without proper foot support or in a high-impact way.
Basically shin splints occur because of repetitive activity that affects the muscle and bone tissue, causing inflammation in the lower leg, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This causes pain along the border of the tibia, also known as the shinbone. “It’s a tough injury that can sideline runners, or anyone involved in a sport or activity that involves a high degree of running,” explains Blake Dircksen, a physical therapist. “It’s painful, stubborn, and debilitating.”
Some other injuries that get lumped into the vague “shin splints” category are compartment syndrome, posterior tibialis tendonitis, flexor hallucis tendonitis, or strains of these muscles, explains Dircksen. “Medial tibial stress syndrome is the more accurate name for the sharp, bony pain felt right on that tibia bone, but it’s more commonly referred to as ‘shin splints,’ he explains. “And if you’ve been running for long enough, you’ll eventually experience it—maybe it’s a rite of passage!”
Signs and symptoms of shin splints
The tell-tale sign that you’re experiencing shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, is if you experience sharp pain when you press directly on the medial side (closest to the middle of the body) of the tibia (shin) bone. “While you’re running, symptoms can vary, but generally it will hurt at the beginning of the run, maybe reduce in severity in the middle, and then be painful again at the end of the run,” says Dircksen. “Single-leg hopping on the affected side is usually painful, too.” If it’s bad enough, shin splits can even cause pain when you’re walking or not moving at all.
Dircksen explains that the pain symptoms due to shin splints exist on a continuum. “On one end of the spectrum, you can have inflammation of the tibia, or shin bone, and on the other end you have a full-blown fracture,” he says. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, especially the more painful latter ones, you should consult with a doctor or physical therapist.