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Tibia or Not Tibia? Different Types of Shin Splints

Written by Michelle Champlin BSc Pod., M.Ch.S., S.R., Ch., (UK)
Shin splints, despite the name, don’t necessarily affect the shin bone itself (or ‘tibia’). Shin splints is an ‘overuse’ injury to the shin area linked to exercise, particularly running. Along with knee issues, ankle sprains and bruised, damaged or lost toenails, it’s one of our most common running related issues we see in Dubai Podiatry Centre. Often, the pain is due to the muscle attaching to the tibia becoming inflamed. You may also hear shin splints being referred to as ‘medial tibial stress syndrome.’
What are shin splints?
Shin splints is a painful condition, most commonly felt at the front of your shin bone (tibia). Due either to the muscles at the insertion point into the shin becoming inflamed, or minor fractures to the shin bone itself.
Muscular shin splints
There are 2 types of muscular shin splints – anterior and posterior. Anterior shin splints affect the outside lower part of your leg. Posterior, the more common of the two, is muscular shin splints affect the lower inside leg. Continuing to exercise without seeking treatment can ultimately cause scar tissue to form.
Bone shin splints
This is actually much less common than muscular shin splints. It is caused by many tiny fractures of the surface of the tibia, resulting in the usual body response to bone fracture – pain and localised swelling. It can ultimately be more serious than muscular shin splints, as if left untreated, can ultimately lead to a more serious fracture of the tibia.
One or more of the factors below may cause shin splints. These include:
• Sudden increase in weight bearing activity (e.g. running)
• Calcium deficiency
• Previous leg injury or sprain
• Biomechanical issue (such as over-pronation)
• Incorrect running shoes
• Hard running surface / hill running
For either bone or muscular shin splints, stop activity immediately and rest, advises Dubai Podiatry Centre’s Chief Podiatrist Michelle Champlin. Because athletes (most commonly runners) are frequently affected, we understand that this can be very difficult advice to stick to. But healing cannot take place if the area is subjected to repeat stress / strain. So avoid any activity that causes your shins to hurt. Try other forms of exercising that aren’t weight bearing such as the elliptical trainer in the gym or swimming. Follow RICE guidelines:
Rest: stop activity that causes shin pain
Ice: apply cool packs 3-5 times daily for 15-20 minutes
Compression – support the site with an elasticated support bandage
Elevation – keep your feet up to aid circulation and reduce swelling
See your Podiatrist as soon as possible. S(he) can assess and diagnose whether your pain is due to muscular or bone shin splints and advise a program of healing at home including RICE and specific strengthening and stretching exercises to rehabilitate. Bring your usual running shoes with you too for examination and recommendation for any footwear switch required, as incorrect footwear can contribute to shin splints. At Dubai Podiatry Centre, we carry out detailed lower limb biomechanics assessments – read here about what they involve and what to bring with you.
Furthermore, the shin splints are frequently a warning sign of a lower limb biomechanical anomaly. Once you have recovered from the initial bout of shin splints, it is important that any anomaly is addressed and corrected, as otherwise the shin splints will likely recur and put you out of action again.
The Podiatrist may recommend a range of solutions including:
• Custom corrective orthotics to address any biomechanical issue (we make orthotics tailored for individual sports, including running)
• Running shoe recommendations (including frequent renewal)
• Gradual, tapered approach to building up exercise activity
• Strengthening / stretching exercise regime for the legs
The outlook is good for shin splint sufferers, whether you’re training for Wadi Bih, the Dubai Marathon or getting back into jogging. At Dubai Podiatry Centre, we understand that runners are keen to get back to running as soon as possible – we specialize in proactive, targeted therapy to get you back running, pain free, in record time.
Call the sports biomechanics podiatrists at Dubai Podiatry Centre on +971 4 3435390.

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