Shin Splints 101

Nothing puts a damper on the activities you enjoy doing the most like the striking pain of shin splints. The throbbing, achy pain along the inner edge of the shinbone can become unbearable and can greatly affect a person’s normal activity level. Activities that require a large amount of running or forceful movement can often be the cause of this condition. The earlier you recognize your symptoms and begin to treat them, the faster you’ll be back to enjoying your activities again.  


“Posteromedial tibia stress syndrome,” known to most as “shin splints,” is caused by repeated stress and inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around the tibia – where the muscle attaches to the bone. It is super common in runners and jumpers and dancers with a 13-17% occurrence rate. This overuse injury can also be common among young athletes whose bodies do not receive adequate rest during and between seasons.


It is important to know the difference between shin splints and stress fractures. Stress fractures are usually a specific point of pain over the bone, while shin splints are more of a stretched pain lingering down the entire shin. At the onset of this condition, symptoms may initially subside after activity, but continuing the activity over time can cause the pain to become chronic.


The most common factors to cause shin splints or stress fracture:

• Improper shoe wear – for runners, shoes are recommended to be switched out every 300-500 miles or every 4-8 months • Flat feet or abnormally rigid arches – causing increased stress on lower leg muscles

• Lack of stretching and warm up - before and after physical activity

• Non-gradual training – sudden changes in physical activity     

• Inadequate calories to sustain your activity level


Treatment:

• Rest

• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

• Ice

• Stretching the gastroc/soleus 

• Strengthening the foot and calf

• Physical therapy if it is not improving

• Training modifications     

•  High quality calorie dense diet


If pain does not subside, your orthopedic doctor may want to make sure you do not have a stress fracture, which can be caused by stress and overuse of the area. An MRI may be suggested to help diagnose this more consistent pain.


Although treatment for both shin splints and stress fractures can in most cases resolve the symptoms, it is always best to avoid this painful condition all-together. With simple behavior modifications, such as properly fitting footwear, cross training, proper caloric intake, and slowly building your fitness level, you may avoid this pain creeping into your legs and interfering with your active lifestyle.