Shin splints are pains along the shinbone (tibia)—the large bone in the front of the lower leg. Shin splints are common in runners and other athletes as well as new military recruits.
Monica is a 15-year-old tennis player. She plays on her high school team and also plays socially on weekends and school breaks. Over the weekend, she played in an amateur competition on a grass tennis court. She had not played on grass courts very often; she usually played on hard tennis courts. After the first day of the competition, she noted that she had severe aching pain in the front of her lower legs. She took acetaminophen (Tylenol) and put ice packs on her legs. Her mother insisted that she see the family doctor, who diagnosed shin splints.
Shin splints, also called medial tibial stress syndrome, is pain along the inner edge of the tibia, also called the shin bone. The tibia is one of two bones in the lower leg. The pain of shin splints may be felt in one of two places. Anterior shin splints are felt below the knee on the front outside part of the leg, whereas medial shin splints felt are on the inside of the leg below the knee. The syndrome is a common problem related to exercise, especially running, playing tennis, dancing, and gymnastics. Shin splints usually develop after physical activity. It is an inflammation * of the muscles, tendons * , and bone tissue surrounding the tibia.
Shin splints are very common, especially in runners and athletes who participate in activities that include running, quick stopping, turning, such as basketball, tennis, soccer or football, and dancing.
Shin splints are an overuse injury caused by too much activity or an increase or change in activity. This type of injury occurs, for example, when a runner who is accustomed to running on flat surfaces changes his running environment to one that has more hills. Shin splints may occur if the athlete has not stretched adequately before running. Running with shoes that are too worn or not appropriate for the sport or activity that the person is doing may also cause shin splints.
Shin splints are common in runners, soccer and football players, tennis players, gymnasts, dancers, and military recruits. Shin splints may also be experienced by those just starting an exercise program or in people returning to exercise after a period of inactivity.
The primary sign of shin splints is pain along the border of the tibia. The pain may be sharp or dull and may occur both during and after exercise. The pain may be aggravated by touching the sore area or by lifting the foot up at the ankle and flexing the foot. Swelling of the area may also occur.
Diagnosis of shin splints is made primarily based on the history of the pain and the associated activity. X-rays may be done to insure that the person is not experiencing a stress fracture of the bone, which is an incomplete fracture of the bone, like a crack in the bone.
Treatment for shin splints is rest for several weeks. Ice packs applied to the area may relieve pain. When the pain has subsided, exercises to stretch and strengthen the leg muscles should be started. Gently stretching the Achilles tendon for medial shin splints or stretching the calf for anterior shin splints can help relieve the pain. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin may also help to reduce pain and swelling associated with shin splints. It can also be helpful to wrap the lower leg or wear an elastic bandage * from the ankle to just below the knee to minimize the pain until the problem has resolved. If there is a stress fracture of the tibia, a cast or splint will be applied until the bone has healed.
There are several strategies for preventing shin splints:
See also Broken Bones (Fractures) • Muscle Spasms and Cramps • Pain • Sports Injuries: Overview • Strains and Sprains • Tendinitis
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. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books, 2013.
Merck Manual: Consumer Version. “Shin Splints.” http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/injuries-and-poisoning/sports-injuries/shin-splints (accessed July 9, 2016).
Starkey, Chad, and Sara D. Brown. Orthopedic & Athletic Injury Examination Handbook. Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis, 2015.
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. “Shin Splints.” http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00407 (accessed July 9, 2016).
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “Handout on Health: Sports Injuries.” http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sports_Injuries (accessed July 9, 2016).
Runner's World. “Shin Splints.” http://www.runnersworld.com/tag/shin-splints (accessed July 9, 2016).
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 9400 W. Higgins Rd., Rosemont, IL 60018. Telephone: 847-823-7186. Website: www.aaos.org (accessed July 9, 2016).
American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine. 9400 W. Higgins Road, Suite 300, Rosemont, IL 60018. Telephone: 847-292-4900. Website: http://www.sportsmed.org/aossmimis (accessed July 9, 2016).
* inflammation (in-fla-MAY-shun) is the body's reaction to irritation, infection, or injury that involves swelling, pain, redness, and warmth.
* tendon (TEN-dun) is a fibrous cord of connective tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone or other structure.
* elastic bandage is a stretchable material bandage used to create localized pressure.