It is a common term which can include a number of diagnosis or causes and is not an actual injury or diagnosis in itself. It is the name athletes often give to pain along the inside of the shin bone. Medial tibial stress syndrome or medial tibial traction periostitis is a more accurate description of what is usually going on.
The muscles of the lower leg pull on the periosteum or sheath surrounding the shin bone causing pain and inflammation. This is an over use injury resulting from increasing running mileage too quickly, excessive training on hard surfaces and running on your toes as in sprinting repetitions.
Certain biomechanical factors such as over pronation (rolling in) of the feet may be seen or particularly tight calf muscles can increase the likelihood of developing shin pain.
Medial tibial stress syndrome is the most common cause of shin pain which people generally refer to as shin splints. It is primarily an over use injury where repetitive strain causes traction forces on the sheath surrounding the bone resulting in pain and inflammation.
Treating shin splints involves reducing pain and inflammation, identifying and correcting training errors and biomechanical problems and restoring muscles to their original condition through stretching, exercises and massage.
Apply the PRICE principles of protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation to reduce initial pain and inflammation. Apply a cold therapy and compression wrap to the painful area of the shin for 10 minutes every hour initially reducing frequency to 3 or 4 times a day as symptoms improve.
Rest - avoid running, jumping or any other activities which make symptoms worse. Replace running with swimming or cycling. If you have to be on your feet a lot then applying a simple shin taping technique can reduce the strain on the lower leg helping rest the soft tissues and often may instantly relieve painful symptoms. Taping can be applied all the time until pain has gone and then occasionally during exercise as activities levels are built up.
Protect and support the area with a shin splint sleeve or compression support. This will help keep the muscles warm and supple as well as providing support to the inflamed tissues.
A doctor may prescribe anti inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen in the early or acute stage (do not take if you have asthma) and orthotic insoles to correct biomechanical problems of the foot may be prescribed. A full rehabilitation program with exercises, particularly stretching for the calf muscles is important with a very gradually return to full fitness. Finding a shin splints cure involves combining a number of different treatment techniques together.
Sports massage can be used to reduce tension in the muscles of the lower leg which may be causing traction on the bone. Removing any tight lumps, bumps and knots as well as encouraging blood flow may aid the healing process. However, it is important to avoid the bone as massage for shin pain done incorrectly may increase inflammation and pain.
Exercises to stretch the muscles of the lower leg are important, in particular calf stretching exercises will stretch the tibialis posterior muscle which is often associated with shin pain. Calf stretching exercises should be done both with the knee straight and bent. Strengthening exercises may also be required although being an overuse injury it is rest and stretching which should be the priority. A gradual return to full fitness is important. Calf raises and toe raise exercises can help get the muscles of the lower leg working again.