Last Updated: September 11, 2017

Shin Splints

Overview

Exercise is a great thing for your body. But working out too hard too soon can lead to shin splints, a painful swelling of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue at the front of the lower leg.

tibia and lower leg

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, cause pain along the inside edge of the tibia, which is the larger of the two bones connecting the knee and foot. They typically come in pairs (one for each leg) and are caused by repetitive pounding movements such as running and jumping. For this reason, they’re usually seen in athletes, especially those who are new to sports.

Shin splints are usually more annoying than dangerous. However, if left untreated, they can progress to stress fractures, which take much longer to heal. They can also be confused with other causes of shin pain, some of which can be dangerous if left untreated.

Shin splints are very common, accounting for about 60 percent of all overuse injuries of the leg. About 10 to 20 percent of runners develop shin splints at some point in their careers.

Causes

Shin splints are almost always caused by repetitive stress associated with weight-bearing exercise. They’re most common in runners, gymnasts, dancers, and people undergoing intense military training such as boot camp.

Shin splints are very common in newer athletes who are just getting into a sport and those who are returning after some time off. They can also happen when you ramp up the duration, distance, or intensity of your workout too quickly (for example, running faster or for longer distances).

Other activities that increase your risk:

People with flat feet or high arches are more prone to shin splints.

Symptoms

Shin splints cause pain along the front and inner part of the shin. This pain may be sharp or dull. It usually (but not always) appears in both legs around the same time. Touching or pressing the shin area may make the pain worse.

Shin splint pain is usually most noticeable during and after exercise. Severe shin splints may hurt all the time, even when you’re resting.

Some people with shin splints also have mild swelling around the tibia.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Shin pain has many causes, some of which can be dangerous or long-lasting. For this reason, it’s important to get any significant pain around the tibia examined by a doctor.

Shin splints are usually diagnosed based on history and physical exam. Your doctor may also order imaging tests such as X-rays, bone scan and MRI to rule out other possible causes such as:

The best thing you can do to treat shin splints is to rest. Avoid the activity that brought on the condition for 2-4 weeks. To keep fit and healthy, switch to low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling.

Other treatments for shin splints include:

Don’t resume the problem activity until you’ve been pain-free for at least two weeks. For your first workouts, start at a very low intensity, distance, and duration and build up slowly. Be sure to warm up properly before the activity, and stop immediately if you feel pain.

With proper care, shin splints usually heal within 3-6 months.

Prevention

To keep shin splints from derailing your training, follow these safety tips:

Sources

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Authored by: Sarah Maurer