Shin splints is a colloquial term for the medical condition ‘anterior tibial compartment syndrome’. The tibia is the shin bone and on the outer aspect, on the front of the leg, lie the muscles that cause the foot to flex upwards. These muscles are encased in a tough fibrous sheath known as the anterior tibial compartment. Pressure and inflammation within this compartment is the cause of a characteristic dull ache with periods of sharp pain most commonly associated or worsened by movement.
The term shin splints actually has nothing to do with the shin bone but is caused by small tears in the muscles within this compartment that cause fluid to leak into the tissues, which in turn cause a build-up of pressure in this tightly compacted area. The pressure leads to a diminution in blood flow, causing ischaemia (lack of oxygen), which the nerves register and leads them to send pain impulses to the brain.
At the first sign of this condition, rest is essential. Continuing to exercise the area will worsen the condition and make treatment more difficult. A period of inactivity of up to six weeks may be necessary if the condition is bad.
Whilst warmth may be more soothing, icing the area will reduce the inflammation by decreasing the blood flow.
Rub in Arnica-based creams several times a day.
Very gentle massage moving the encased fluid up the leg may help the symptoms. If the massage is too aggressive, the bruising will worsen. Massage is important once the condition has settled because it will prevent recurrence.
Ultrasound or deep heat treatment is occasionally given by those who do not understand the underlying physiology. This will encourage blood flow and prolong the condition.
The homeopathic remedies Arnica, Bryonia, Rhus toxicodendron and Ruta should all be considered through examination of your preferred manual. Take potency 6 every 3hr when the condition starts and after three days increase the potency to 30 but reduce the frequency to twice a day until the condition has resolved.
Acupuncture may be instantly relieving.
Osteopathy should be considered because manipulative techniques may help the lymphatic drainage, thereby clearing the excess fluid, and also the malalignment that is common because of the other side of the body taking more strain.
When returning to exercise, start slowly and avoid exercise on hard surfaces, such as road running, basketball and tennis.