By Michael Joseph, DPT Student
Definition and Risk Factors:
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS), better known as shin splints, is a common athletic injury caused by repetitive stress to the tibia. MTSS is more prevalent in activities involving a great deal of running and jumping, like distance running, sprinting, basketball, tennis, gymnastics, and dancing; it is also common in military personnel. MTSS can be caused by many factors stressing the tibia, including: periostitis (inflammation of connective tissue surrounding bone), periosteal remodeling, tendinopathy, and dysfunction of muscles surrounding the tibia, like the tibialis posterior, tibialis anterior, flexor digitorum longus, and soleus muscles. Risk factors for MTSS include flat feet and/or over-pronation, repetitive running and jumping, excessive hip range of motion, smaller calf girth, and a body mass index above 20.2.
Symptoms include pain of the middle and lower thirds of the medial shin. Individuals may experience pain during and/or after physical activity. During the early onset of MTSS, symptoms may be felt at the beginning of exercise, but may subside as activity continues. As MTSS progresses, pain may be felt throughout exercise and may linger afterwards.
A thorough physical therapy subjective and objective exam is usually sufficient to diagnose MTSS. However, patients may require further imaging or work up to rule out pathologies like stress fractures, exertional compartment syndrome, or peripheral vascular disease.
Management of Shin Splints:
The goal of physical therapy in the acute phase is to reduce pain and inflammation. This can be done through stretching, manual therapy of the injured tissue, taping, icing, and rest. For many athletes prolonged rest from their sport is not ideal. MTSS management may require “relative” rest, meaning their activity level may need to be adjusted but not stopped completely. This depends on the activity and severity of the pathology.
The goal of physical therapy in the subacute phase is to modify training regimens and correct biomechanical abnormalities. According to Galbraith et al, reducing weekly training frequency and intensity by 50% will likely improve symptoms without completely stopping training. However, this depends on each patient’s case and may need to be adjusted. Training can also be augmented with low impact exercises, like swimming or cycling, to help maintain strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Create a Physical Change in Your Body and Movement
Another treatment of MTSS is to strengthen the arch of the foot and hip, and increase core stability; this will help to improve jumping and landing mechanics, as well as single leg stability. Specifically, strengthening the tibialis posterior and intrinsic foot musculature will help increase arch support and prevent excessive pronation. Improving hip extensor and abductor strength can help improve lower extremity mechanics. Stretching and eccentric strengthening of the calf has also been shown to be beneficial by decreasing muscle fatigue with running and jumping.
Changing running biomechanics may also be beneficial. A study from Leiberman et al, found that heel first strike during initial contact, when running, creates an impact transient equal to nearly three times the individual’s body weight. Not only is this incredibly inefficient, but this creates a large force traveling directly up through the tibia with each step. The impact transient with forefoot first strike during initial contact is seven times lower than with a heel strike. This evidence suggests forefoot running is more efficient and less injurious.
Blog Post written by Michael Joseph, DPT Student at Mount Saint Mary’s University. Michael is currently in his final Clinical Rotation with me at Catz Physical Therapy Institute.
- Budde, Kari Brown. Physical Therapist’s Guide to Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome). http://www.moveforwardpt.com. Accessed May 11, 2017.
- Galbraith, R. Michael, Lavelle, Mark E. Medial tibial stress syndrome: conservative treatment options. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2009 Sep; 2(3):127-133.
- Lieberman, Daniel E., Venkadesan, Madhusudhan, Werbel, William A., Daoud, Adam I., D’Andrea, Susan, Davis, Irene S., Mang’Eni, Robert Ojiambo, Pitsiladis, Yannis. Foot strike patterns and collision forces in habitually barefoot versus shod runners. Nature. 2010 Jan; 463:531-535.
- Moen, Maarten Hendrik, Holtslag, Lenoor, Bakker, Eric, Barten, Carl, Weir, Adam, Tol, Johannes L., Backx, Frank. The treatment of medial tibial stress syndrome in athletes; a randomized clinical trial. Sports Med Arthrosc Rehabil Ther Technol. 2012 Mar; 4(12).