Medial tibial stress syndrome is the most common cause of shin pain which is referred to as shin splints. It is primarily an over use injury where repetitive strain causes traction forces on the sheath surrounding the bone resulting in pain and inflammation.
Although too much running, jumping or sprinting is the obvious cause, there are a number of factors which can increase the likelihood of shin pain developing.
What causes Shin Splints?
Overpronation occurs when the foot rolls inwards too much flattening the arch of the foot and causing the lower leg to rotate inwards. This in turn increases the stress on the soft tissues of the lower leg resulting in pain and inflammation.
Over supination is where the foot rolls outwards too much during the time the foot is in contact with the ground. If you think you have suspected biomechanical issues then a professional can do gait analysis tests either with a treadmill or using force plates to determine this and whether corrective orthotic inserts for your shoes are needed.
Inadequate footwear such as the wrong type of shoe for your running style or running shoes that are just too old and have lost their support and cushioning can cause injury. Over pronators may require a running shoe with a firmer midsole on the inside to reduce the amount of rolling in (known as a stability shoe or motion control shoe). Supinators usually require a neutral shoe with plenty of cushioning. A specialist running shop can advise.
Increasing training too quickly is one of the more common causes of shin splints. Running on hard surfaces or on your toes as in sprinting and generally doing too much too soon will increase the risk of injury.
Poor flexibility at the ankle can cause increased stress on the soft tissues, muscles and tendons of the lower leg when running. The calf muscles and in particular the tibialis posterior muscle may need stretching. Calf stretches of the use of a plantar fasciitis night splint can help.
How to avoid shin splints
If you have previously suffered from shin splints and want to avoid it recurring or simply want to give yourself the best chance of avoiding shin pain there are a number of things you can do.
Premiership Football Physiotherapist Neal Reynolds talks about how to prevent shin splints and shin pain.
Increase training gradually. Do not run too often on hard surfaces. You can do more training if you run off-road. Avoid running a lot on your toes. Not easy if you are a sprinter but varying the training surface can help.
Ensure you have the correct footwear and that it is not too old. A pair of running shoes will have lost most of their cushioning after 400 miles. If you run few miles but your shoes are over 6 months old then they still may need replacing. Check you do not overpronate. See a podiatrist or Sports injury therapist / Physiotherapist that can assess this.
Apply ice to the shin after training. This may help keep inflammation down before it gets bad. Wear a shock absorbing insole.