The term “shin
splints” describes pain felt along the inner edge of your shin bone.
Shin splint pain concentrates in the lower leg between the knee and ankle. Your
doctor may refer to the condition as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).
Shin splints frequently affect people who engage in moderate
to heavy physical activity. You may be more likely to develop shin splints if
you participate in strenuous physical activities or stop-start sports such as
tennis, racquetball, soccer, or basketball. Sometimes the pain of shin splints
can be so intense that you must stop the activity.
Shin splints is a cumulative stress disorder. Repeated
pounding and stress on the bones, muscles, and joints of the lower legs prevent
your body from being able to naturally repair and restore itself.
Causes Shin Splints?
The pain associated with shin splints results from excessive
amounts of force on the shin bone and the tissues attaching the shin bone to
the muscles surrounding it. The excessive force causes the muscles to swell and
increases the pressure against the bone, leading to pain and inflammation.
Shin splints can also result from stress reactions to bone
fractures. The constant pounding can cause minute cracks in the bones of the
leg. The body can repair the cracks if given time to rest. However, if the body
doesn’t get time to rest, the tiny cracks can result in a complete fracture or
a stress fracture.
Additional causes of shin splints include:
- an anatomical abnormality (such as flat foot
- muscle weakness in the thighs or buttocks
- lack of flexibility
- improper training techniques
Extreme force on the shins could result from:
- running downhill
- running on a slanted surface or uneven terrain
- using inappropriate shoes for running or working
- participating in sports that have fast stops and
Shin splints are also more likely to occur when your leg
muscles and tendons are tired. Women, people with flat feet or rigid arches,
athletes, military recruits, and dancers all have an increased likelihood of
developing shin splints.
of Shin Splints
People with shin splints will experience some of the following
- a dull ache in the front part of the lower leg
- pain that develops during exercise
- pain on either side of the shin bone
- muscle pain
- pain along the inner part of the lower leg
- tenderness or soreness along the inner part of
the lower leg
- swelling in the lower leg (usually mild, if
- numbness and weakness in the feet
See your doctor if your shin splints don’t respond to common
treatment methods or if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- severe pain in your shin after a fall or
- a shin that feels hot
- a shin that’s visibly inflamed
- swelling in your shin area that gets worse
- pain in your shins even when you’re resting
Are Shin Splints Diagnosed?
Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose shin splints
during a physical exam. They’ll ask you about the types of physical activities
you participate in and how often you pursue them. Doctors may prescribe diagnostic
tests such as imaging scans and X-rays if they suspect that you might be
suffering from bone fractures or a condition other than shin splints.
Shin splints normally require that you take a break from
certain physical activities and give your legs time to rest. The discomfort
will usually resolve completely in a few hours or at most in a few days with
rest and limited activity. The suggested amount of downtime is typically about two
weeks. During this time, you can engage in sports or activities that are less
likely to cause additional harm to your legs. These activities include swimming
or walking. Your doctor will often suggest that you do the following:
- keep your legs elevated
- use ice packs to reduce swelling
- take an over-the-counter pain medication
- wear elastic compression bandages
Check with your doctor before restarting any activities. It’s
important to differentiate this condition from more serious conditions affecting
the lower leg, such as compartment syndrome or fractures. Warming up before
exercise is also a good way to make sure your legs aren’t sore.
Shin splints rarely require surgery. Compartment syndrome is
a painful condition in which excessive pressure builds within a muscle
compartment. If compartment syndrome happens and the pain is severe, surgery to
open the fascia (the thick
tissue that surrounds muscle groups) may be necessary. If a muscle tears away
from your shin bone, surgery will be necessary to reattach the muscle.
Shin Splints Be Avoided?
Steps you can take to avoid getting shin splints include:
- wearing shoes that fit well and offer good
- using shock-absorbing insoles
- avoiding exercise on hard or slanted surfaces or
- increasing exercise intensity gradually
- warming up before exercising
- making sure to stretch properly
- engaging in strength training, specifically toe
exercises that build calf muscles
- not attempting to exercise through the pain
- barefoot running
Any intensive exercise program requires strengthening of all
surrounding muscle groups. Workouts should be varied to avoid overuse and
trauma to any particular muscle group. You should refrain from any intense
exercise program if severe muscle pain or other physical symptoms develop.