Is there any serious distance runner who does not know what shin splints are? Or who has not had them before? I doubt it, but let’s define the condition anyway.
Definition of Shin Splints
Shin splints, more formally called medial tibial stress syndrome or anterior tibial stress syndrome, is an overuse injury of the lower leg that involves micro-tearing of the myofascial origins of either the tibias anterior muscle or the tibias posterior, which both run along the length of the shin bone, or tibia. The result is inflammation and pain. It is common to see the condition develop if the runner has increased the intensity or duration of workouts or has started running up and down hills more frequently.
There are two types of shin splints
As you might guess from the definition, there are actually two types of shin splints, defined by which of the two muscles is affected. The pain will be in a different location depending on which type a runner has developed, and there is a specific way to treat each one.
The condition almost always responds well to acupuncture
I’ve treated a lot of runners for various conditions involving the legs and feet, and most patients with shin splints responded very well to treatment, experiencing an elimination of pain over the course of 1-2 months. It is important during the course of treatment and healing that athletes refrain from running and stay in shape with a different aerobic activity, like cycling or swimming. Once out of pain, they can start running again, slowly increasing their time. Since the pain of shin splints is often only felt during exercise, the absence of perceived pain when the patient is not exercising is not a reliable indicator of whether the injury has healed. For this reason, we need to palpate the affected area with moderate pressure to determine the pain level on a 0-10 scale. We start during the first treatment. When the level is reported to be at 0-1, the patient can resume running, increasing the distance gradually. It is also important that we check for flat feet, foot pronation and any pelvic imbalances that might contribute to a misalignment of the muscles of the legs.
In cases of flat feet and excessive pronation, it has been found that the use of orthotics to maintain a more normal longitudinal arch of the foot can go far in preventing the problem from occurring again.
Beyond shin splints—tibial stress fracture and CECS
If the response to acupuncture is slower than anticipated, the runner might have a tibial stress fracture, which is a progression of shin splints. A definitive diagnosis might require an X-ray or bone scan, but the good news is that acupuncture can help reduce pain and accelerate the healing process for this condition as well. It’s just that the recovery will take longer than it would for a simpler case of shin splints.
If in spite of treatment the pain persists, It is possible that the patient has a condition called chronic exertion compartment syndrome (CECS), which must be evaluated and treated by an orthopedic physician.