What are shin splints?

Shin splints occur when the muscles and bones in the lower part of the leg pull and tug at their insertion on the shin bone (the tibia) and it becomes inflamed (irritated and swollen) and painful. Athletes often have shin pain because they put repeated stress on the shin bone, muscles and connective tissues. Doctors sometimes call shin splints medial tibial stress syndrome, which is a more accurate name.

Shin splints are a very common overuse injury. With rest and ice, most people recover from shin splints without any long-term health problems. However, if left untreated, shin splints do have the potential to develop into a tibial stress fracture.

How do people get shin splints?

Shin splints develop from repeated stress to the shin bone by the pulling and tugging of the muscles and connective tissues in the lower leg. Frequent, repetitive pressure from running and jumping can cause the shin bone to become inflamed (swollen or irritated) and weakened. When the bone does not have time to heal, the damage can get worse and cause severe pain. Anyone who starts a new exercise routine or accelerates their sport or activity too quickly may be prone to developing shin splints.

Who is affected by shin splints?

Although anyone can get shin splints, certain people have a higher chance of developing the condition. Groups with a higher risk of shin splints include:

  • Runners, especially those who run on uneven surfaces or suddenly increase their running program.
  • Athletes who play high-impact sports that put stress on the legs.
  • Dancers.
  • People who have flat feet, high arches, or very rigid arches. In this situation, your muscles and bones may not absorb or distribute force from impact and loading activities as well.
  • Members of the military and people who march or walk a lot.
  • People who wear unsupportive shoes when exercising.
  • Walking extreme distances.
  • Anyone with underlying vitamin D deficiency, eating disorder or loss of normal menses.
  • Individuals with osteopenia or osteoporosis who may already have weaker bones.

What are the symptoms of shin splints?

The most common symptom of shin splints is lower leg pain. The pain can range from mild to severe, and the shin bone may be tender to the touch. Pain from shin splints can:

  • Commonly be seen on the inner lower part of the leg or front of the shin bone.
  • Start off as come-and-go discomfort with activity and progress to a steady and persistent pain even after the activity has ended.
  • Be sharp or a dull ache.
  • Get worse after activity.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/05/2020.

References

  • Merck Manual. Shin Splints. Accessed 2/11/2020.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. Shin Pain. Accessed 2/11/2020.
  • American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Shin Splints. Accessed 2/11/2020.

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