Shin Soreness & Shin Splints
Shin soreness and shin splints are terms used to refer to a pain in the front lower leg. This could be because of:
While there are many causes of shin splints, they can all be categorized into two main groups: Overload (or training errors), and Biomechanical Inefficiencies. Weak or inhibited gluteal muscles can cause shin splints.
Overload (or training errors)
Shin splints are commonly associated with sports that require a lot of running. It is not the running itself, but the sudden shock force of repeated landings and change of direction that causes the problem. When the muscles and tendons become fatigued and overloaded, they lose their ability to absorb the damaging shock force.
Other overload causes include:
The significant biomechanical inefficiency contributing to shin splints is that of flat feet. Flat feet lead to a second biomechanical inefficiency called over-pronation. Pronation occurs just after the heel strikes the ground. The foot flattens out and then continues to roll inward. Over-pronation occurs when the foot and ankle continue to roll excessively inward. This excessive inward rolling causes the tibia to twist, which in turn, overstretches the muscles of the lower leg.
Other biomechanical causes include:
Strain, tear or fracture
The two problems can also co-exist as the stress fracture is caused by the excessive pull from the tendons against the bone, and tendon tightness and pain may be a protective spasm around a fracture area.
A tear in the enclosed muscles can cause compartment syndrome, so the two problems can co-exist.
Muscles are enclosed by a containing sheath, which is inelastic. The muscles tend to swell due to injury, or overuse, so each time you use the muscles, they will swell further and create extra pressure in the sheath. With compartment syndrome pain, you usually only feel these pains running or walking for long enough to bring on the muscle swelling. You feel pain when exercising, but it eases quickly when you stop, and the muscle swelling reduces. The pain may be felt in the:
Telling one from the other
A stress fracture tends to have pain that runs up and down a region of the lower leg near the tibia, and if you tap the tibia, some discomfort may be felt. If you have numbness in the lower leg, then this is generally associated with compartment syndrome.
In Athletics Weekly, Daniel Lawrence reported that the three most common causes of shin splints are Stress Fractures, Medial Tibial Traction Periostitis and Compartment Syndrome. The following table provides an overview of each condition. These injuries are caused by repetitive strain or overuse and are linked to common biomechanical faults of the feet with both high and low arches increasing the risk of shin pain.
How to Treat Shin Splints
The essential treatment for shin splints is no different to most other soft tissue injuries. Immediately following the onset of any shin pain, the R.I.C.E.R. regime should be applied. This involves Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral to an appropriate professional for an accurate diagnosis.
The R.I.C.E. regime must be implemented for at least the first 48 to 72 hours. Doing this will give you the best possible chance of a full recovery.
The next phase of treatment (after the first 48 to 72 hours) involves some physiotherapy techniques. The application of heat and massage is one of the most effective treatments for speeding up the healing process of the muscles and tendons.
Determine if the shin splints are due to a biomechanical problem, or an overload problem and take appropriate steps to remove the cause.
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