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Overcoming shin splints

The term "shin splints" refers to pain along the inner side of the shinbone or tibia. It is an injury that is seen frequently in runners, however anyone who is active can be subjected to this painful condition. The term also includes stress fractures, inflammation of the tendons on the outside of the ankle and inflammation of the periosteum (sheath covering the tibia). Most cases of shin splints can be handled with rest and ice, however more serious cases may require physiotherapy treatment.

Shin splints may be caused by the following:

  • Using improper footwear during running
  • Overuse or over-training
  • Running downhill. This puts traction on the shinbone.
  • Frequent starts and stops, as in basketball and tennis.
  • Flat arches

Symptoms of shin splints:

  • Pain over the inner lower half of the leg
  • Pain may be felt at the start of exercise and lessen as the session continues.
  • There may be some swelling
  • Pain returns the morning after and may be worse than before
  • Pain when the toes or foot is bent downwards.

How can physiotherapy help?

  • Perform a gait analysis to determine the mechanism of injury i.e. whether you over-pronate (foot rolls inward) or over-supinate (foot rolls outward).
  • Manage pain with the use of ice and massage, if this can be tolerated.
  • Taping of the shin to relieve pressure on the leg
  • Gentle stretching exercises as soon as they can be tolerated
  • Advise on ways to improve technique in order to avoid stress on the shinbone
  • Recommend proper orthotics to correct over-pronation

During the rehabilitation phase, you may take part in other low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling and water sports. Having shin splints does not have to keep you from your favourite sport forever. Following some common sense precautions, your physiotherapist's advice and using the right type of footwear can put you back in form before long.


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