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, known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, are 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.
Shin splints typically develop after physical activity. They are often associated with running, however any vigorous sports activity can bring on shin splints, especially when a new fitness program is started.
Shin splints develop when the muscle and bone tissue (periosteum) in the leg become overworked by repetitive activity. In most cases, shin splint occur after sudden changes in physical activity such as frequency of the number of days you exercise each week. Changes in duration and intensity, such as running increased distances or increased vertical resistance, can also cause shin splints. Flat feet, abnormally rigid arches and improper footwear can contribute to shin splints.
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:
After discussing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will examine your lower leg. An accurate diagnosis is very important. Sometimes, other problems may exist that can have an impact on healing.
Your doctor may order additional imaging tests to rule out other shin problems. Several conditions can cause shin pain, including stress fractures, tendinitis, and chronic exertional compartment syndrome.
If your shin splints are not responsive to treatment, your doctor may want to make sure you do not have a stress fracture. A stress fracture is a small crack(s) in the tibia caused by stress and overuse.
Imaging tests that create pictures of anatomy help to diagnose conditions. A bone scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study will often show stress fractures in the tibia.
Tendons attach muscles to bones. Tendinitis occurs when tendons become inflamed. This can be painful like shin splints, especially if there is a partial tear of the involved tendon. An MRI can help diagnose tendinitis.
An uncommon condition called chronic exertional compartment syndrome causes symptoms like shin splints. Compartment syndrome is a painful condition that occurs when pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels. In chronic exertional compartment syndrome, this is brought on by exercise. Pain usually resolves soon after the activity stops.
The tests used to diagnose this condition involve measuring the pressure within the leg compartments before and after exercise.
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.
There are things you can do to prevent shin splints.
Like any significant change in your fitness regimen, a barefoot running program should be started very gradually. Begin with short distances to give your muscles and your feet time to adjust. Pushing too far, too fast can put you at risk for stress injuries. In addition, barefoot runners are at increased risk for cuts and bruises on their feet. Several brands of minimalist shoes with “toes” are available and these also require a slow working in period as your body adjusts to this different activity.
If your shin splints do not improve after rest and other methods described above, be sure to see a doctor to determine whether something else is causing your leg pain.