Orthotic Solutions for Shin Splints
It's an ailment that's commonly described as either sharp or dull and throbbing, and it can range from discomfort to debilitating pain that makes even a brisk walk impossible.
If your shins are tight, throbbing and aching, you’re probably suffering from shin splints.
The term "shin splints" is pretty vague. It could refer to any number of lower leg problems that are brought on by repetitive stress including running, hiking or dancing. Some people feel shin splints after long periods of exercise, when suddenly implementing a new exercise routine or when exercising on hard surfaces. Other people complain of shin splints when performing routine tasks such as walking uphill.
Shin splints are often hard to describe, and because pain and tenderness of the shin bone and lower leg are so closely intertwined, it's not at all uncommon to see various ailments getting lumped into the same diagnoses: shin splints.
In fact, "shin splints" may refer to
- Medial tibial stress syndrome
- Tibial stress fracture
- Compartment syndrome
What is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome
Medial tibial stress syndrome is characterized by pain that occurs either on the shin bone or on the outside of the leg. This is where shin splints and stress fractures are often confused, but the difference is actually pretty straight forward:
- Shin splint pain isn’t localized like a fracture
- Stretching the foot inward or upward with some resistance causes pain
Medial tibial stress syndrome is commonly reported by athletes when activity intensity, duration or load is increased too quickly. Shin splints are very common in long-distance runners, dancers and military personnel, however,
many other aspects such as a person’s age, weight, joint laxity, pronation, and flexor/extensor strength and balance also play an important role.
- High arches
- Lack of flexibility
- Improper stretching
- Improper foot support
- Flat feet (overpronation)
- Weak ankles, hips and/or core
- Imbalance between calf and shin muscles
Solutions for Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome)
Stretch & strengthen your ankles
Stretch your Achilles and your calves
Avoid increasing workout intensity too quickly
Add hip & core strength training to your routine
Consider shock-absorbing insoles & cut back on high-impact exercise
Use insoles that support your arches, particularly if you have flat feet
Wear an insole that helps to align and stabilize the foot and ankle takes stress off your lower leg
What is a Tibial Stress Fracture
Finding proper treatment for suspected shin splints is critical because muscle strain can eventually result in bone injuries. Bone-related shin pain can be identified by these three common components:
- Pain is localized
- Pain worse in evening
- Area of pain is increasing
Tibial stress fractures are caused by the muscle pulling on and weakening the bone over long periods of time. In addition to your activity level and intrinsic factors such as bone density, stress fractures can also result from improper body mechanics. Worn and unsupportive footwear as well as over- and under-pronation are both contributing factors to bone injuries.
Solutions for Tibial Stress Fractures
- Treat your shin splints early & aggressively
- Stop activity, apply ice regularly and rest from all activity if a stress fracture occurs
What is Exertional Compartment Syndrome
While chronic compartment syndrome can be highly debilitating and could result in a recommendation for surgical intervention, it is not a surgical emergency like the compartment syndrome that can occur after a crushing injury or a blood clot.
ECS is commonly initially diagnosed as "shin splints" because people report having pain in the same areas of the leg. However, there's one distinct difference that sets ECS apart from stress syndrome and stress fractures: the pain is quickly relieved with rest.
And that's because the pain associated with ECS does not result from stress on the muscle or bone, but rather from the fascia that encloses the muscle. Fascia, if you're not familiar with the term, is simply another word for a type of fiber that connects organs to your muscles and bones; you've likely heard of "
plantar fasciitis", the inflammation of the fascia in the bottom of the foot.
The fascia that surrounds the muscles in your legs are designed to accommodate some swelling, since an increase in muscle size is typical with exercise. However, in some people, the fascia is simply too tight. This results in a tight and painful constricted feeling, most commonly in the front part of the shin, sometimes even during very light exercise.
Biomechanical gait problems caused by high or low arches without insufficient support can greatly exacerbate the symptoms of ECS.
Solutions for Exertional Compartment Syndrome