Medically termed medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints is a cumulative stress disorder often associated with runners and other athletes, as well as people who routinely engage in strenuous physical activity. The disorder arises from repeated stress on the muscles, tendons, and bones of your lower legs that also prevents your body from being able to heal itself.
The term “shin splints” refers to the pain you feel on the inner part of your lower leg, where the shin bone, or tibia, connects with the muscles that help support it. The pain comes from tissue inflammation.
At Performance Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, the practice of Dr. David Dickerson, we see our share of shin splint cases, and we specialize in developing a customized treatment plan for pro athletes and weekend warriors alike — one that not only restores your optimal strength, but also helps you prevent future injuries.
We want you to better understand this condition and what we can do to help you, so we’ve put together this guide to get you in the know.
The risks for developing shin splints
As we’ve mentioned, shin splints develop from repetitive and excessive force on the muscles in the lower leg, causing them to swell and increasing the pressure against the bone. This leads to inflammation and pain.
It’s also possible to develop shin splints when you have stress fractures in the tibia bone. Allowed to rest, the body can repair these minute cracks. If you continue to work out, though, the cracks can turn into a widened bone fracture.
Most people develop shin splints when their leg muscles and tendons are tired. At high risk for the condition are people who have flat feet or high or rigid arches; athletes, particularly those who participate in sports that rely on fast starts and stops; dancers; and military recruits participating in forced marches. At the highest risk, though, are runners who pound the pavement with each step.
Shin splint diagnosis
It’s important to diagnose shin splints accurately, since other conditions such as stress fractures, tendinitis, and chronic exertional compartment syndrome, also present with pain in your shins.
At your consultation, Dr. Dickerson discusses your symptoms with you, takes a complete medical history, and examines your lower leg. He may also order X-rays or a CT or MRI scan to rule out any other problem. MRIs, for example, are good at highlighting cases of tendinitis, which is treated differently than shin splints.
Treating your shin splints
The best treatment for shin splints is simple rest — specifically, stopping the pounding for about two weeks to achieve a full recovery. During this time you can engage in activities that don’t involve a lot of leg stress, such as biking, swimming, or using an elliptical.
Other common treatments include:
- Over-the-counter NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories): reduce pain and inflammation
- Ice: cold packs on legs for 20 minutes at a time throughout the day
- Compression bandage: prevents additional swelling
- Flexibility exercises: stretching your lower leg muscles makes your shins feel better
- Supportive shoes: good cushioning to reduce stress
- Orthotics: help align and stabilize your ankle and foot, taking stress off of your lower leg
- Return responsibly to exercise: build up slowly to pre-injury intensity and duration
How runners can avoid shin splints
These tips are especially helpful for runners, but they can benefit anyone engaged in high-intensity activity.
- Wear shoes with good arch and heel support
- Use shock-absorbing insoles
- Avoid working out on hard or uneven surfaces
- Stretch properly before exercising
- Practice strength training, especially toe exercises that build calf muscles
- Strengthen all muscle groups around shin area
- Vary workouts to avoid repetitive injuries
- Don’t exercise through pain
If you overdo your workout and develop severe muscle pain, stop and rest. If the symptoms continue for more than a couple of days, come in to see Dr. Dickerson.
Shin splints are painful and disabling, but they’re treatable. If you have shin splints, or if you’re an athlete concerned about developing them, schedule a visit by calling the nearest office where our helpful team can answer your questions and book an appointment. We have offices in Toms River, Shrewsbury, and Wall Township, New Jersey.