Shin Splints

By Lisa Thomson, DC
Categories: , , ,

Unfortunate side of sports. Young handsome athlete sitting on the racetrack holding on to his injured knee

What are they?

Shin splints is a term for pain felt in the shin/lower leg.  Shin splints most commonly happen to long distance runners, endurance athletes, new runners and military personnel.  Due to the high demands of these activities, injuries to the shins are quite common.  The excessive stress that is put on the tissue surrounding the shin can cause little tears in the muscles.  Sometimes the excessive force is so much that it can cause stress fractures in the bone.

What are the symptoms?

With shin splints pain is usually felt along the lower front of the leg (the shin).  This pain can be a dull ache or it can be an intense sharp pain.  The shin is typically tender to the touch and inflammation may be visible.  This pain is typically felt during exercise, especially during running.

What can cause it?

While it is commonly believed that shin splints happen because of overuse, the exact cause is still not completely known.  Some long distance runners never develop shin splints while others are prone to them.  The latest research suggests proper ankle and hip mobility may play a large role in which athletes get shin splints.  Other factors that have been shown to influence the occurrence of shin splints include poor footwear, a sudden increase in activity, running on hard surfaces, poor biomechanics, inadequate warm-ups and flat feet.  Females are more susceptible to shin splints than males.

How serious is it?

Most of the time shin splints will resolve on their own within 2-4 weeks with proper rest.  More severe shin splints may take a few months to resolve.  It is important to note that shin splints can be much more severe when stress fractures develop or with compartment syndrome.  If pain is severe and is accompanied by weakness, weird sensations and/or discoloration, seek medical care immediately.

What are the treatment options and what should I expect?

Proper rest and avoidance of the activity causing the shin splints is very important for healing.  Other commonly suggested treatment options may include:

  1. Ice
  2. Strengthening and stretching exercises
  3. Kinesio taping
  4. Myofascial release
  5. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT)
  6. Custom orthotics
  7. Biomechanical assessments/modifications
  8. Anti-inflammatory supplementation or NSAIDS

      Sources:

  1. Reshef, Noam, and David R. Guelich. “Medial tibial stress syndrome.” Clinics in sports medicine 31.2 (2012): 273-290.
  2. Sievers, Megan. “The Relationship of Lower Extremity Range of Motion and Incidence of Shin Splints in Collegiate Runners: A Pilot Study.” (2019).
  3. Loudon, Janice K., and Michael P. Reiman. “Lower extremity kinematics in running athletes with and without a history of medial shin pain.” International journal of sports physical therapy 7.4 (2012): 356.
  4. Ellis, Joseph. Running Injury-Free: How to Prevent, Treat, and Recover From Runner’s Knee, Shin Splints, Sore Feet and Every Other Ache and Pain. Rodale Books, 2013.