Shin splints refers to pain in the front of the lower legs. The pain is located along the inside edge of the tibia, the large bone in the lower part of the leg.
Pain most often occurs during or right after a change in activity level, such as running more often or increasing the number of miles.
Although the term shin splints is often used, it is not a defined medical diagnosis.
Tibial shin splints are very common. They can affect both recreational and trained athletes.
The pain of shin splints is caused by swelling or inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and the thin layer of tissue that covers the shin bone.
The common cause is overuse from too much activity or training, and then not enough time to allow the tissues to heal or recover.
Often a sudden change in activity may be the cause, such as:
Flat feet or a very rigid arch may place more stress on the lower leg and also cause shin splints.
Other causes of pain in the shin bone:
Begin the healing process with 2 - 4 weeks of rest.
After 2 - 4 weeks, and when the pain is gone, you can start running again. Increase your activity level slowly. If the pain returns, stop exercising right away. Warm-up and stretch before and after any exercise.
Use ice or a cold pack over the area for 20 minutes, twice a day. Over-the-counter pain medications will also help.
Talk with your health care provider or a physical therapist about wearing the proper shoes, getting orthotics for your shoes, and running on the right types of surfaces.
Treatment depends on the cause of the problem.
Although shin splints are seldom serious, you may need to call your health care provider if:
The health care provider will perform a physical examination and take a medical history.
Medical history questions may include:
The physical examination may include an examination of the legs.
Home treatment will be prescribed for any of the different types of shin splints. Surgery may be needed in rare cases when shin splints caused by an anterior compartment syndrome do not go away over time.
The pressure can be relieved by splitting the tough, fibrous tissue that surrounds the muscles. Surgery may also be needed for stress fractures.
Lower leg pain; Pain - shins; Anterior tibial pain; Medial tibial stress syndrome; MTSS; Exercise-induced leg pain; Tibial periostitis; Posterior tibial shin splints
Carr K, Sevetson E, Aukerman D. Clinical inquiries. How can you help athletes prevent and treat shin splints? J Fam Pract. 2008;57:406-408.
Bederka B, Amendola A. Leg pain and exertional compartment syndromes. In: DeLee JC, Drez D, Jr., Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Saunders Elsevier;2009:chap 24.
Updated by: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc. C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
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