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Shin Splints

What are shin splints?

Shin splints refers to pain and tenderness along or just behind the large bone in the lower leg (the tibia, or shinbone). Also called medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints are common in dancers, athletes, and military recruits.

What causes shin splints?

Shin splints are a type of overuse injury. They most often happen after hard exercise, sports, or repetitive activity. This repetitive action can lead to inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and thin layers of tissue covering the shinbones, causing pain. Certain conditions, such as abnormal foot arches, vitamin D deficiency, and osteoporosis, may increase the risk of shin splints. Not wearing proper supportive shoes during the activity may also make one prone to getting shin splints.

What are the symptoms of shin splints?

These are the most common symptoms of shin splints:

  • Pain felt on the front and outside of the shin. It's first felt when the heel touches the ground during running. In time, pain becomes constant and the shin is painful to the touch.

  • Pain that starts on the inside of the lower leg above the ankle. Pain gets worse when standing on the toes or rolling the ankle inward. As the shin splint progresses, pain will increase.

The symptoms of shin splints may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are shin splints diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can most often diagnose shin splints by reviewing your medical history and doing a physical exam. X-rays are often needed to rule out any stress fractures. An MRI or bone scan may be done when necessary.

How are shin splints treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on the underlying cause and how severe the condition is.

The best course of treatment for shin splints is to stop any activity that's causing the pain until the injury is healed. Other treatments may include:

  • Stretching exercises

  • Strengthening exercises

  • Cold packs

  • Medicine, such as ibuprofen

  • Running shoes with a stiff heel and special arch support

What can I do to prevent shin splints?

You may be able to prevent shin splints by wearing good-fitting athletic shoes. Also, gradually increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of a new exercise routine. It may also help to switch between high-impact activities and low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling. Follow a proper warm-up and cool-down routine, including stretching exercises. A proper diet, along with supplements as prescribed by your healthcare provider, may help prevent or treat nutritional deficiencies that may increase your risk of getting shin splints.

Key points about shin splints

  • Shin splints refers to the pain and tenderness along or just behind the large bone in the lower leg.

  • They develop after hard exercise, sports, or repetitive activity.

  • Shin splints cause pain on the front or outside of the shins or on the inside of the lower leg above the ankle.

  • Treatment includes stopping the activity that causes the pain. Stretching and strengthening exercises may also help. You can also apply cold packs, take medicines such as ibuprofen, and wear good-fitting athletic shoes.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also, write down any new instructions your healthcare provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also, know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.

Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Shaziya Allarakha MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2024
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.