Shin splits are both a common and misunderstood injury. The medical term for shin splits is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). The tibia is the inner bone of the calf (in the lower leg). MTSS occurs due to overuse of the lower extremities and is typical in athletes such as runners, dancers, and jumpers. Shin splits, or MTSS, show up in the body as exercise-induced pain over the front of the tibia, or shin area. Shin splits often develop due to a large increase in activity, such as running for long distances or doing high impact activities like jumping.
There are many factors that can increase the likelihood of developing MTSS. Females are more prone to developing the syndrome, as are those with a history of MTSS and high BMIs. Weak arches in the feet, reduced hip range of motion, muscle weaknesses and imbalances, running on a hard or uneven surface and bad running shoes can all increase the risk of developing MTSS. Shin splits are an early stress injury in the process of developing tibial stress fractures.
The underlying physiology of MTSS is not completely understood. It is thought that the injury results from unrepaired damage in the bone of the tibia, though at this point the cause of shin splits are only theories. You may be able to help prevent shin splints though the use of insoles that are shock-absorbing and pronation controlling. Graded running programs, to prevent over-stressing the tibia, may also be an effective prevention method.
Treatment such as physiotherapy can be an essential component in recovery from shin splints. Most treatments for MTSS focus on rest and decreasing the amount of repetitive, load-bearing exercise. Your physiotherapist will likely develop a progressive exercise program for you to safely get you back to pain-free movement. Your physio may also focus on correcting your running and/or walking pattern if these were factors in your injury.
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Kiah Loewen, BHK
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Medial tibial stress syndrome. Physiopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.physio-pedia.com/Medial_Tibial_Stress_Syndrome