Conditions & Symptoms

Shin Splints

Shin splints are a common name for tibial stress syndrome, which results in pain in the shin bone or tibia of the lower leg. The tibia is the main bone that takes the stress of the lower leg when running or doing sports. Shin splints are especially common in people who are on their feet a lot such as runners, those fresh in the military, and dancers.

This is common in athletes who have just altered their training and have intensified the pressure they put on their legs. This results in excess stress on the tendons, bones, and muscles of the lower leg, leading to overwork of the legs and increased pain. Many times, shin splints can be treated with home remedies such as ice, rest and anti-inflammatory medication, such as naproxen sodium and ibuprofen. It usually means you have to change your exercise routine so that the problem doesn’t come back again.

Symptoms of Shin Splints

Shin splints, as mentioned, usually occurs in athletes. Common symptoms include aching and tenderness along the front and inner part of the lower leg where the tibia is located. You can have shin splints on one or both legs and mild swelling of the affected area is not unexpected.   You usually notice the pain more when you are exercising or running but, if you persist in doing the activity, the pain may not go away and can be present at rest.

If rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications, and ice do not relieve the pain in the shin, you can make an appointment to see the doctor for further evaluation and management of the condition. If you are a competitive sports athlete, you may be able to see your trainer for advice as to how to relieve the pain and get back to your normal sporting activity.

Risk Factors for Shin Splints

Those at higher risk of getting shin splints include the following types of people:

  • Those who play sporting activities on a hard surface and must undergo sudden stops and starts during the course of play.
  • Those who are runners and who have just started running or have just intensified their training program.
  • Those in the military who must march for many hours at a time.
  • Those who must run or walk on uneven terrain, such as cross-country runners or those who run on sandy beaches.
  • Those who have high arches in their feet or flat feet.

Diagnosis of Shin Splints

Doctors can diagnose shin splints by doing a careful history of the problem and a good physical examination. Sometimes an x-ray or bone scan is done to rule out the possibility you may have another cause of your tibial pain, such as a stress fracture of the tibia.

Treatment of Shin Splints

Most of the time, you can manage the treatment of shin splints on your own using self-care at home. This involves the following:

  • Rest as much as you can. You need to stay away from any activity that worsens the discomfort, pain, and swelling and you can turn instead to low-impact activities like water aerobics, water running, swimming, and bicycling. These do not put excess pressure on the tibial area.
  • Apply ice to the painful area. You can put ice packs on the shin for up to 30 minutes at a time for 4-8 times per day several days in a row. Make sure you avoid putting bare ice on the skin and use a cloth or towel to protect the skin from getting burned.
  • You can use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. This includes ibuprofen (marketed as Motrin and Advil) or naproxen sodium (marketed as Naprosyn and Aleve). Acetaminophen (marketed as Tylenol) will reduce the pain but won’t do anything for the inflammation.
  • As the pain is lessened, you can gradually go back to your sporting activities. If it hasn’t completely healed, however, the pain may come right back.

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