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What Are Shin Splints - Part 1

Posted Apr 01 2013 3:20pm
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You run 3-4 days a week and for the first mile or so you feel fine then the front of your lower legs start to BURN! You push through the pain anyway to finish your run. By the time you get home all you can think about about lying down, or getting a hot bath, anything to sooth the pain in your legs. You've been getting this pain consistently for a while now and it's starting to get to the point where you can no longer run. Chances are you have shin splints. Ok, so not all cases of shin splints are severe enough to prevent you from activity, you may only get them once in a while or during the last leg of a run.


So, what are shin splints?

First off all, there is no splinting of the shin bone (tibia). This name probably derived as an adaption to an early description of the "spike soreness" by Dr. Hutchins in 1913. The term shin splints has been an area of debate, which I find silly, but science minded folk are all about debating terms. Some use it as a generic term for lower leg pain, others feel that it describes specific lower leg pathologies - typically medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). There has been a push to not use the term shin splints to describe the pain because of it's non-specificity, but at least it says where the pain is right? The term is so confusing to the best and brightest of us that Batt, ME decided to write an entire review on the matter, and eventually decided that the term exercise related leg pain should be used. Oh how fickle medical professionals can be.

In my opinion, shin splints are an overuse injury, somewhat akin to a tendonitis. So that's not very specific, it doesn't change how I go about treating the issue. I'm still going to analyze your gait, look at your footwear, rule out stress fractures or compartment syndrome and develop an appropriate treatment regime.

Sorry that post was a little bit of a rant. I just don't like getting to caught up on nomenclature when it has little to no effect on treatment. In my next post I'll get into the causes of shin splints.

Stay tuned for Part 2 - Causes of Shin Splints

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References:

Batt ME. Shin splints–A review of terminology. Clin J Sport Med. 1995;5:53–57

Hutchins CP. Explanation of spike soreness in runners. American Physical Education Review.1913;18:31–35
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