Most of us know the sensation caused by shin splints – that shooting pain following a pavement-pounding walk or run. Usually, we feel better in a day or two – but what are shin splints, and why are they so bad that you need professional help. Mark Lin, a Sydney sports podiatrist, tells us what we need to know about an ailment that can turn nasty if left unaddressed.
Why Your Shins Hurt
The first time we experience the pain of shin splints, plenty of people are happy to give us a name for our problem. Unfortunately, they make us none the wiser as to what is causing it.
Mark Lin tells us that the name “shin splints” actually covers a variety of injuries. These include stress fractures of the tibia, a type of repetitive stress injury known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), overuse of the calf muscles, and compartment syndrome, a serious condition in which overstressed muscles can constrict blood flow which, in turn, affects our muscle and nerve cells.
“Many people think that shin splints aren’t serious, and in most instances, they aren’t, but if you’re overtraining and frequently putting your lower limbs through this kind of stress, or if the damage is particularly severe, you may develop tibial stress fractures. If you’ve progressed to compartment syndrome, you may even need surgery,” says Lin.
Getting down to the cause of these woes can be surprisingly easy says the sports podiatrist: “The way in which people use their feet is often the cause of shin splints. Correcting that can spare them a great deal of discomfort and even help them to avoid surgery they’d have needed if the issue wasn’t treated.”
How Podiatrists Help with Shin Splints
As the lead therapist at The Footwork Clinic Sydney offices, Mark often sees patients with shin splints. “As a therapist, my first concern is to determine why we are seeing this kind of injury. I evaluate my patients to see what’s amiss with the biomechanics of their feet.”
“The treatment itself will vary from individual to individual. Pain relief comes first, and here, we use interventions such as massage and stretching exercises to reduce discomfort. But we don’t just want to treat symptoms. We also want to work with our patients to reduce or eliminate future shin splints.”
“To begin with, the way in which the feet are stressing the lower limbs can be addressed by using tape supports, specialised insoles, and by wearing the right kind of shoes. But we can also work to strengthen weak muscles that may be contributing to or causing the stress injury. We also look at the way in which our patients walk and, if necessary, we apply a program aimed at correcting the gait. In short, we aim to reduce the chances of shin splints recurring.”
Pain is Not Normal
Although shin splints are a common ailment, they certainly aren’t normal, says Lin. “We need to be careful about distinguishing between common ailments and what’s normal. Pain is a signal that something’s not right, and if it doesn’t go away or keeps recurring, rest won’t be enough to solve the problem.”
“If your feet or legs hurt, a lot of people will tell you its ‘normal,’ but they’re mistaken. Many people who develop serious shin-splints related issues like tibial fractures or compartment syndrome made that mistake and ignored the problem until they couldn’t overlook it any longer.”
Here’s The bottom line. If you only get shin splints very occasionally and you recover quickly, you will probably get away with leaving your body to heal itself unassisted, but when pain is intense, persistent, or recurring, you should reach out for help.
The Footwork Clinic takes top-quality care seriously and is your go-to source for any running related injuries. Find them in two convenient locations, in Chatswood on Sydney’s North Shore and Sydney CBD.
For further information, visit the The Footwork Clinic – Leading Sports, Podiatry, Foot And Lower Limb Corrective Services to book online, or call Mark Lin or his friendly team on +61 2 9131 6891.
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The information contained in this guide is provided in good faith and is not intended to be nor is it to be used as a substitute for any sort of professional, medical or podiatric advice. An accurate diagnosis can only be made following personal consultation with a podiatrist. Any users should always seek the advice of their podiatrist, or other qualified healthcare providers before commencing any treatment.