Ow, my legs!

Candice Davis

Do you get a pain in the front of your lower legs, especially during or after strenuous exercise? You might have shin splits, says Candice Davis, a physiotherapist with Spring Orthopaedics.

Shin splints is the term used to describe the pain caused by inflammation of the periostium. This is a sheath of tissue that surrounds your shin bone or tibia. The condition usually affects people who do activities where the legs take a lot of impact like running, or tennis where there are a lot of sudden stops and starts.

Signs of shin splints include tenderness down the fronts of your legs and there may also be some swelling or lumps and bumps when you feel along your shin bone. Sometimes you may notice your skin is red in the painful areas.

You are more prone to getting shin splints if you run on hard surfaces or slopes as the impact on your legs will be greater. Equally, if your trainers are badly fitting or worn out, then your won’t have the support and cushioning to lessen the stress on your legs.

One of the most common causes of shin pain is doing too much too soon. If you are new to a sport, then try and build up your training slowly so that your muscles have the chance to strengthen.

Some people are simply more prone to shin splints because of their natural gait or the shape of their foot. For example, if you have flat feet or tend to over-pronate when you run – that is, your foot rolls inwards – then this puts more pressure on your lower leg. Weak ankles and a tight Achilles tendon can also exacerbate shin splints

How to treat shin splints

Don’t “run through the pain” as you could make the problem worse. If your shins are very painful then apply ice or cold water. This will reduce the swelling and help the pain to subside.

The best course of action is to rest while the inflammation goes down, and then avoid high impact activities while your injuries heal. You can maintain your fitness by cycling or swimming as these forms of exercise are non-weight bearing.

Before you resume your usual activities, check that your footwear is up to the job. If your trainers are more than a year old or you’ve run at least 500 miles in them, then they will have lost most of the cushioning that acts as a shock absorber. You should also ensure that they give you the right support for the shape of your foot and your running gait. Most people tend to roll their feet either outwards or inwards, but a properly fitting shoe will provide the support you need to compensate for this.

If you have chronic shin splints that are stopping you from enjoying your favourite sport, then you could consult a specialist sports physiotherapist who will show you specific exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your lower leg. Exercises that focus on building up the Tibalis Posterior muscle in the calf are particularly beneficial.