What is Shin Splints?Shin splints refers to a group of conditions that relates to a muscular and / or bony pain along the shin bone. One of the two muscles is shown by the striped zone on the diagram to the right. The second muscle is Tibialis Posterior which is not shown here. The pain can range from a dull ache only while exercising to severe pain that stops you from performing normal daily activities for several days after exercise.
The majority of people who experience shin splints will have a simple mechanical problem where one or both of the tibial muscles are put under more physical stress than they can tolerate. Sometimes this condition occurs through lack of conditioning such as a sudden increase in activity, at the start of a sporting season, and this may resolve as the muscle becomes stronger or fitter. In other cases, the problem will worsen as exercise is increased through the season. If this occurs, treatment is required to stop the pain and allow you to enjoy activity again.
Almost always, where shin pain is not just transitory at the start of an exercise program, it is directly caused by an abnormal foot behaviour called over pronation. This is a rolling in of the foot or a collapse of the arch during the walking or running cycle, especially occurring as the lagging heel (ie the foot that is behind you) starts to lift from the ground. The higher the arch of your foot, the closer together the start and finish of the tibial muscles are. The dropping of the arch in a pronated foot causes the bottom attachment of the tibial muscles into the foot bones to move further away from the attachment on the shin as the foot position changes. This makes the tibial muscles have to stretch out to be longer than they should be and changes their alignment from being almost straight to being more ‘J’ shaped. Both of these changes put the muscle at a disadvantage and mean that they have to squeeze harder to produce the same output of force. At the same time, because it is the tibial muscle group’s job to resist pronation and slow down the slumping of the arch, they have more work to do.
The double disadvantage of more to do and less ability to achieve it makes the tibial muscles work too hard and this can result in an overuseinjury which is what shin splints is. You will be relieved to know that an overuse injury doesn’t necessarily mean that the best thing to do is to avoid all activity. In the majority of cases that we see in our clinic, the shin splints muscle group is only being overused because the faulty mechanics of the foot are making the muscles work excessively hard to compensate. With proper treatment by our podiatrists, foot function can be corrected by using an orthotic arch support and the forces required to be produced by the tibial muscles will return to normal. Proper examination of your foot and leg and general body biomechanics are necessary to determine if your shin pain is something other than the most common type described above. See us for a full assessment and appropriate treatment.
To view this information in a downloadable, printable form, please see our Shin Splints Info Sheet. Alternately, use this link to return to the Podiatry FAQs Blog. More information on shin splints is contained in the next few articles.