The Running Doctor: Recognizing shin splint injuries

Frequently, many athletes of all sports, as well as walkers, suffer from shin pain and are looking for relief.

One of the most common injuries is shin splints, especially among beginner athletes. The term shin splint is commonly used to describe pain in the lower leg.

The most common sports associated with shin splints are those sports such as jumping, or have a change to a hard playing surface such as football, soccer or aerobic dance. The condition, however, can occur in any sport and is most commonly found in the unconditioned, untrained athlete.

These are two types of shin splints named for the anatomical location of the pain.

The anterior shin splint is found in the front portion of the shinbone, or tibia. The posterior shin splint pain is found on the inside section of the leg along the tibia.

One of the major problems causing the overuse injury is pronation of the foot, which is a medical term used to describe the inward rolling of the foot. It is most commonly seen in people who have flat feet or low arches. The stretching of the foot inward places increased pull on the muscles that run along the inner border of the ankle and under the arch. These muscles originate along the inner side of the lower leg.

With the increase pounding on the arch and constant pull on the muscle, the muscle is stretched and even torn away from the bone. The result is pain and inflammation, or worse — a tibial stress fracture. Trying to tell the difference between shin splints and a stress fracture of the shin is difficult for the average physician and impossible for the layman.

Even the most experienced sports physician may have trouble diagnosing a stress fracture. An x-ray of the skin does not show all stress fractures. If you do in fact have a stress fracture, you are in for a few months of rest with no athletic activities.

Treatment of shin splints involves muscle strengthening of the shin muscle and to change the cause and effect of the pronation-flatting of the foot on the leg.

Dr.Robert F. Weiss is a podiatrist. He was a former member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the Olympic Marathon Trials. Dr. Weiss is a veteran of 35 marathons. For more information go to