Shin splints, formally known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are the bane of many active individuals. They arise from repetitive stress and overuse of the leg muscles, leading to inflammation, tenderness, and an ache along the inner edge of your shin. However, diagnosing shin splints is often more complex than meets the eye. Is it a stress fracture? Could it be tendonitis? Visit the experienced health care professionals at Northwest Extremity Specialists to obtain an accurate diagnosis and discuss your treatment options.
Symptoms of Shin Splints
Shin splints are common in runners, but can be caused by any type of intensive activity. Common symptoms of shin splints include:
- Pain along the inner edge of the shinbone (tibia)
- Tenderness or soreness when touching the affected area
- Swelling or inflammation around the shin
- Pain that worsens during or after physical activity
- Pain that diminishes with rest but returns upon resuming activity
- Pain that may extend to the ankle or foot in some cases
Pain from shin splints is initially described as mild to moderate, but may progress to more severe discomfort if not addressed.
Conditions With Similar Symptoms
The symptoms of shin splints overlap with several conditions affecting the feet and ankles, which can complicate the process of obtaining a correct diagnosis.
- Tendonitis. Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon that connects muscle to bone. This condition can produce similar pain and discomfort, especially during physical activity. However, tendonitis may have specific points of tenderness along the tendon.
- Stress fracture. Stress fractures are small cracks in the bone that can develop due to repetitive stress or overuse. They often cause pain and tenderness along the shin, resembling shin splints. However, stress fractures typically have localized tenderness over a specific area of the bone and may require imaging tests for accurate diagnosis.
- Compartment syndrome. Compartment syndrome occurs when pressure builds up within a muscle compartment, leading to pain and potential muscle or nerve damage. The symptoms, including pain along the shin, can mimic shin splints, but compartment syndrome may cause more severe and persistent pain that does not subside with rest.
- Nerve entrapment. Conditions such as tibial nerve entrapment can produce symptoms that mimic shin splints. Nerve-related issues may cause aching, burning, or shooting pain along the shin, often accompanied by tingling or numbness.
Diagnosing Shin Splints
Shin splints are typically diagnosed through medical history assessment and physical examination. Imaging tests such as X-rays might be used to rule out a stress fracture or other related conditions.
Shin splints can be treated by orthopedists, sports medicine physicians, or podiatrists. All three types of professionals are available in one convenient location when you visit Northwest Extremity Specialists.
Orthopedic doctors are specialists in diagnosing, treating, and preventing conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. When it comes to shin splints, orthopedists can evaluate the severity of the condition, identify any underlying factors contributing to the pain, and recommend appropriate treatment options.
Sports Medicine Physicians
Sports medicine physicians are trained to address injuries and conditions related to physical activity. These doctors possess in-depth knowledge of the demands athletes face and understand the mechanics of movement, making them well-equipped to handle shin splints. Sports medicine physicians also play a vital role in preventing future injuries.
Podiatrists, also known as foot and ankle specialists, diagnose and treat issues affecting the feet and lower limbs. Given that shin splints often arise from biomechanical issues or improper foot positioning during physical activities, podiatrists play a significant role in managing this condition. They can conduct a thorough gait analysis, evaluate foot structure and alignment, recommend appropriate footwear or orthotic devices, and provide expert advice on stretching and strengthening exercises for the lower legs.
Treatment for shin splints typically involves the following:
- Reduced physical activity. This may include modifying or temporarily stopping activities that exacerbate the pain. Avoiding high-impact exercises and giving your body time to heal is crucial.
- Ice therapy. Ice can be applied for 15 to 20 minutes several times daily, especially after physical activity.
- Pain management. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
- Proper footwear. Wearing appropriate footwear with good cushioning and support can reduce the stress on the shins.
- Orthotics and shoe inserts. Using orthotic devices or shoe inserts can help correct biomechanical issues contributing to shin splints.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapy uses targeted exercises and stretches to strengthen the muscles around the shin, improve flexibility, and correct any gait abnormalities.