Shin splints are a common exercise-related problem. The term “shin splints” refers to pain along the inner edge of the shinbone (tibia).
Shin splints typically develop after physical activity. They are often associated with running. Any vigorous sports activity can bring on shin splints, especially if you are just starting a fitness program.
Simple measures can relieve the pain of shin splints. Rest, ice, and stretching often help. Taking care not to overdo your exercise routine will help prevent shin splints from coming back.
Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your tibia. Pain typically occurs along the inner border of the tibia, where muscles attach to the bone.
In general, shin splints develop when the muscle and bone tissue (periosteum) in the leg become overworked by repetitive activity.
Shin splints often occur after sudden changes in physical activity. These can be changes in frequency, such as increasing the number of days you exercise each week. Changes in duration and intensity, such as running longer distances or on hills, can also cause shin splints.
Other factors that contribute to shin splints include:
Having flat feet or abnormally rigid arches
Exercising with improper or worn-out footwear
The most common symptom of shin splints is pain along the border of the tibia. Mild swelling in the area may also occur.
Shin splint pain may:
1. Be sharp and razor-like or dull and throbbing
2. Occur both during and after exercise
3. Be aggravated by touching the sore spot
Rest. Because shin splints are typically caused by overuse, standard treatment includes several weeks of rest from the activity that caused the pain. Lower impact types of aerobic activity can be substituted during your recovery, such as swimming, using a stationary bike, or an elliptical trainer.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen reduce pain and swelling.
Ice. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
Compression. Wearing an elastic compression bandage may prevent additional swelling.
Flexibility exercises. Stretching your lower leg muscles may make your shins feel better.
Supportive shoes. Wearing shoes with good cushioning during daily activities will help reduce stress in your shins.
Orthotics. People who have flat feet or recurrent problems with shin splints may benefit from orthotics. Shoe inserts can help align and stablize your foot and ankle, taking stress off of your lower leg. Orthotics can be custom-made for your foot, or purchased “off the shelf.”
Return to exercise. Shin splints usually resolve with rest and the simple treatments described above. Before returning to exercise, you should be pain-free for at least 2 weeks. Keep in mind that when you return to exercise, it must be at a lower level of intensity. You should not be exercising as often as you did before, or for the same length of time.
Be sure to warm up and stretch thoroughly before you exercise. Increase training slowly. If you start to feel the same pain, stop exercising immediately. Use a cold pack and rest for a day or two. Return to training again at a lower level of intensity. Increase training even more slowly than before.
Very few people need surgery for shin splints. Surgery has been done in very severe cases that do not respond to nonsurgical treatment. It is not clear how effective surgery is, however.