Do you run? If so, you’re at higher risk of a common condition called shin splints. If you’ve experienced it before, you know how they can be a persistent and pesky problem that makes even a short run unpleasant. Shin splints come from repeated trauma and “wear and tear” to the muscles and tendons that surround the tibia bone, the larger bone in the lower leg.
Surprisingly, experts aren’t sure exactly what causes shin splints, whether they’re due to trauma to the periosteum, the sheath that surrounds the tibia, or inflammation and trauma to the tendons or muscles in the area of the shin. What’s clear is that they’re typically brought on by overuse. Shin splints are also called medial tibial stress syndrome, an appropriate name considering they come from repeated stress on the tissues around the tibia. You don’t have to run to develop shin splints. If you do any type of vigorous, high-impact exercise, you’re at risk. However, shin splints are most common in runners.
You’re more likely to develop shin splints if you increase your running mileage too quickly or tackle a new exercise program too aggressively. In general, you shouldn’t increase the distance that you run by more than 10% per week. This gives your muscles and tendons a chance to adapt to going longer distances. Shin splints are also more common when first starting an exercise or running program or if you try to tackle a longer distance than you’re accustomed to. It can also happen if you suddenly increase the frequency with which you work out.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom of shin splints is pain along the tibial bone. Since the bone is toward the medial side of your lower leg, you’ll typically feel it along the inside of your calf and it can be sharp and stabbing or more of a dull ache made worse by movement. You’ll usually feel the discomfort most when exercising and it usually subsides with rest, although in severe cases, you can have it even after you’ve recovered. If you press the medial side of your calf, you might feel pain or slight swelling even at rest.
Know What You’re Dealing With
Before treating shin splints, make sure that’s what you have. It’s important to distinguish this malady from a more serious condition called compartment syndrome. Acute compartment syndrome is a condition where fluid builds up in a compartment, or fascia, in the leg and becomes trapped. Normally, the fascia expands as blood flow increases. When the fascia doesn’t expand quickly enough fluid becomes trapped.
When acute, compartment syndrome can severely damage the lower leg due to a reduction in blood flow. A classic sign is severe pain in the calves made worse by running. Most acute cases of acute compartment syndrome occur after an injury, although you can also develop it from strenuous exercise. Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency that usually requires surgical decompression to