Shin Splints

What is Shin Splints?

Shin splints is a condition that is characterized by pain in the front of the tibia (shin bone). It commonly affects physically active military personnel, inexperienced runners, gymnasts, dancers and others who may push themselves too quickly. It can be caused by insufficient stretches, overuse of one leg and poorly designed or worn out shoes.

The area that is usually affected in the inside of the shin. However, it can affect the outer portion. The exact cause of the pain is unclear, but researchers theorize that it could be a result of a muscle swelling, tiny shreds of muscle that pull off of the bone and/or swelling of the thin layer of tissue that surrounds the tibia. Particularly high arches and flat feel can exacerbate the condition.

What are the Symptoms of Shin Splints?

  • Pain in the front of the tibia (shin bone)
  • Pain may stop or continue when ceasing activity
  • Minor lower leg swelling

Shin Splints Causes

Shin splints are caused by inflammation in the bone tissues, muscles and tendons surrounding the tibia (shin bone). Usually this occurs after overexertion of the legs, particularly repetitive movements or activities.

Running is often a common cause of shin splints, but dancers and people in the military also tend to be very susceptible to the condition. Those with flat feet or abnormally rigid arches are also likely to develop shin splints, probably as a result of poor form caused by the problems with their feet.

Often, shin splints occur after a sudden increase in physical activity or a dramatic change in the type of activity. For example, someone who suddenly takes up jogging after a period of minimal exercise could develop shin splints. Similarly, an experienced runner who usually runs on flat terrain and begins trail running in very hilly areas could also develop the condition.

How are Shin Splints Treated?

Shin splints can result in stress fractures if left untreated. However, most cases do not require professional medical care. Treatment may include:

  • Inactivity
  • Ice applications approximately five to six times a day for up to 20 minutes at a time
  • Non-prescription pain medication
  • Quality shoes
  • Professional movement analysis and subsequent running technique changes
  • Shock-absorbing shoe inserts
  • Different cross training techniques and activities
  • Gradual increases
  • Strength training

In most cases, simply backing off or changing an exercise or running routine will alleviate the symptoms of shin splints. It is essential to properly stretch before exercising, running and all other physical activities.

Shin Splints Prevention

It may be possible to prevent shin splints by gradually building up your level of activity rather than starting an intense new exercise regime right away. This will help to slowly tone and strengthen the muscles and tendons around the shin bone so that they become capable of increased activity without becoming inflamed.

Having supportive footwear will also help to prevent shin splints, because it will help to maintain good form and reduce the amount of strain being placed on the muscles and tissues around the shin bone. Shock-absorbing insoles may be particularly helpful for those who tend to run or exercise on very hard ground. Arch supports may also be useful for those with flat feet.

Although it is the muscles and tendons surrounding the tibia which are affected by shin splints, lots of other muscles in our body play roles in the strength and health of our shins. Muscles in the ankles, upper legs, hips and core all help to support movement of the lower leg, so by strengthening these you will better equip your shins for high-impact activities. A physiotherapist may be able to help identify weak areas which could make you more susceptible to shin splints and advise on strengthening and conditioning exercises.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 07, 2017