Shin Splints: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

November 12, 2012

Shin Splints: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Shin splints are also called medial tibial stress syndrome. This is a common injury in athletes or people who do a lot of physical activity in their jobs, such as construction workers or professional dancers. Racehorses also get this injury, although it’s usually called bucked shins instead of shin splints. Shins are located underneath your knee at the front of your leg but above your ankle. Shin splints can occur in one or both legs.

When doctors refer to shin splints, they could be talking about two different types of injuries in the shin area that cause similar symptoms. Injuries can be to just the muscles, tendons or fractures of the shin bones. Injuries to just the muscles are less serious than injuries to the bones.

Common Causes

One of the most common causes of shin splints is flat feet. When a person walks, jogs, dances or exercises, their feet have to impact against the ground. The arch of the foot acts as a shock absorber, but people with flat feet lack these natural shock absorbers. Their lower legs take the stress of constant impacts. Even people who do have arches need to wear shoes that help support their arches while they exercise, especially if exercising on hard surfaces like concrete.

Another common cause is exercising too hard. There are two ways this occurs. The first way is by forgetting to warm up leg muscles before shifting into intense activity like running. This is why it is so important to stretch and do slow exercises to help warm the muscles up and get them ready for the work ahead. The second way is when people over-exercise. You should never exercise when in pain or it can lead to complications like medial tibial stress syndrome.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most common symptom of shin splints is pain in the shin. This pain is a soreness that is most pronounced right after beginning exercise and right after exercising. The pain often recedes during exercise. Pain can come and go or remain constant depending on where the injury is located and how severe it is.

The shin becomes swollen and hurts too much to be touched. Some people also experience numbness or swelling in their feet. Doctors may prescribe X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to check for bone breaks. Shin splints usually worsen over time, so do not put off going to the doctor.


The good news is that very rarely does anyone need surgery to recover. Most people heal with a combination of rest, medications like anti-inflammatory painkillers and a better exercise program which include warming up exercises. Some patients may be required to rest up to six weeks. Doctors may suggest adding arch supports or neoprene leg warmers to help give support to the damaged shins and prevent re-injuring them.

Putting an ice bag or a cold pack on sore shins for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, This can help ease pain and swelling. Never place directly on bare skin because this could cause cold burns.


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