Shin splints, also known as tibial stress syndrome, is a painful condition which strikes mainly runners. It is characterized by throbbing pain along the front of the shin or deep within the shin. It is important to obtain a proper diagnosis for your shin splints, as tibial stress fractures in runners can often mimic the symptoms of shin splints. Other symptoms of shin splints include warmth or swelling anywhere along the shin bone.
Something that very few people know about shin splints is that they come in two varieties, anterior and posterior shin splints. Anterior shin splints is what most people think about when they hear the name “shin splints”, and this is a problem involving the tibialis anterior muscle that runs along the front of the lower leg.
A lesser know variety of shin splints is called posterior shin splints. Due to overuse, the tibialis posterior muscle becomes irritated and damaged, and causes pain deep within the lower leg and also sometimes along the front of the shin. It is injured via the same mechanism by which the tibialis anterior muscle gets injured (an overworked muscle becomes chronically tight, has a decreased oxygen supply and develops adhesions which limit motion and cause pain). Both types of shin splints can be treated effectively with a non-surgical, hands-on technique known as Active Release Techniques.
Shin splints are usually caused by doing too much too soon (ramping up intensity or mileage too quickly), or by an abrupt change in running surface from trail running to running on asphalt. The overworked muscles not only develop adhesions, but they exert a pulling force on the outer covering of the shin bone called the periosteum. It is exceedingly painful for this covering to get pulled away from the bone.
Tibial stress fractures that develop in runners sometimes mimic the symptoms of shin splints, therefore an x-ray is sometimes indicated to rule out a stress fracture. A stress fracture builds up overtime from overuse, and it is basically a series of tiny cracks in a bone. In some cases, conservative treatment methods can be tried first, and if the shin pain remains after a course of treatments, there may be an underlying stress fracture that must be healed. Other treatments that are helpful in resolving shin splints include: ice, rest, myofascial release on the shin and calf muscles, kinesiotaping, and specific strengthening exercises. If your shin splints is being caused by poor running form, such as by over-striding and excessively heel striking, working with a running coach can help resolve that issue.
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