Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) are often considered a runner’s ailment but any vigorous activity can bring them on. Repeated pounding and stress on the muscles, tendons and bone tissue of the lower leg can cause repetitive microtrauma resulting in pain and inflammation. The most common symptom of shin splints is lower leg pain. The pain can range from mild to severe. It typically occurs both during and after exercise and may be aggravated when the sore spot is touched. You may also experience tenderness or soreness along the inner part of the lower leg.
People who have a higher risk of developing shin splints include:
- Runners, especially those who run on hard or uneven surfaces or suddenly increase their running program
- Athletes who participate in stop-start sports like tennis, racquetball, soccer or basketball
- Members of the military and people who march or walk a lot
- People with osteoporosis
- People who wear inappropriate or worn-out footwear
Most shin splints can be diagnosed through a physical exam. Your doctor will ask about the types of activities you enjoy and how often you participate in them. He or she will examine your lower leg checking for pain and tenderness along the shin bone. Your doctor may order imaging tests such as a bone scan, X-ray, or MRI to rule out stress fractures or other shin problems. Most shin splints respond to non-surgical treatments that can include:
- Taking a break from vigorous physical activities to give your legs time to heal
- Elevate your legs
- Use ice packs
- Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, such as Advil or Aleve
- Stretch your lower leg muscles
- Wear elastic compression bandages
- Use a foam roller to massage your shins
- Wear arch supportive shoes
- Biomechanics assessment
- Physical therapy
Shin splints usually resolve within one or two weeks of rest and or limited activity.
Check with your doctor before resuming physical activities. Ease back into your sport or exercise routine. Begin slowly and gradually increase the duration, intensity and frequency. If the pain returns stop the activity immediately, ice the area and rest for a day or two before trying again.
Reviewed by Ronald D. Troxell, D.P.M.
Dr. Troxell offers both conservative and surgical management to the lower extremity. Ronald treats all aspects of the foot and ankle, from ingrown toenails and skin lesions to complex fractures and nerve pain. He specializes in arthroscopy, trauma, bunions, Charcot, total ankle arthroplasty, complex reconstructive surgery of the foot and ankle, and sports medicine.