Many people especially runners experience pain down the front of the shin and have either self diagnosed or been to their GP who have given them the diagnosis of "shin splints".
So what exactly is shin splints? many medical professionals use the term shin splints as an umbrella term for pain down the front of the shin either due to lack of real understanding or perhaps just simple misdiagnosis.
This mis understanding is not the fault of the medical professional, but rather because of the vague definition given to shin splints and so shin splints has been used as more of an umbrella term rather than defining it as the specific condition it is. The American Medical Association of Nomenclature of Athletic Injuries state that the term shin splints should be confided to conditions of musculoskeletal origin, However this definition would mean that conditions such as tibial stress fractures, chronic exertional compartment syndrome, Tibialis Anterior strain etc are all put under this umbrella term. Krenner, 2002 on the other hand describes shin splints as micro tears in either the origin or insertion of the tibialis musculature which may also include interosseous membrane pain and tendonitis alongside periostitis, which I believe is a far better and more specific definition.
So how do you know if you have shin splints or Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome (CECS). People with CECS can go months if not years before they are properly diagnosed, as some of the symptoms are similar to shin splints i.e. pain usually starts in the front of the shin. However, there are a few other symptoms that will differentiate CECS. First of all pain usually starts at a predictable distance into a run and will gradually get worse the further you try and run. Second, numbness and pins and needles will start to develop if you continue to push through the pain to the point where your entire shin and foot will go completely numb. Stopping will usually relieve the symptoms. Please note: If you experience these symptoms and stopping the activity does not relieve your symptoms within a few minutes then you should seek immediate medical attention.
Andy has been involved in the health & fitness industry for over 10 years, specialising in corrective exercise, injury prevention and rehabilitation of low back, neck and shoulder pain. He also has an interest in the use of Osteopathy for the management of headaches.