Shin splints are a painful, exercise-related problem. Shin splints are defined as pain along the front and inner part of the leg—the shinbone (tibia). They are common among people who are physically active, particularly runners and dancers.
Shin splints are the result of repetitive stress on the shinbone and connective tissues attaching the muscles to the bone. Pain from overworked muscles, tendons, and bone tissue in the leg is often treatable with rest, ice, over-the-counter pain relievers and stretching. When self-treatment doesn’t provide relief, you may need to see your doctor.
Symptoms of shin splints include pain and tenderness along the front and inner part of the lower leg. Mild swelling may also occur. When you first get shin splints, you may notice that pain will subside when you quit exercising; however, over time, pain from shin splints may continue whether you are exercising or resting.
Some people may be more at risk of developing shin splints than others. Risk factors for shin splints include:
• Playing sports on hard surfaces
• Playing sports that require sudden stops and starts
• Running on uneven terrain
• Military training
• Flat feet or high arches in the feet
If you’ve recently started an exercise program (particularly running) or have recently intensified your existing exercise program, you may experience shin splints as well.
Preventing shin splints
• Choose shoes that properly support your feet. If you are a runner, your shoes should be replaced every 350 to 500 miles.
• If you have flat feet, wear arch supports. Even without flat arches, wearing arch supports can help prevent shin splints.
• Reduce repetitive impact. Incorporate cross training into your workout regimen to reduce the impact on your shins and joints. Swimming or biking are two great cross training options for people who play sports or participate in activities that cause repetitive impact, such as running.
• Don’t forget strength training. By strengthening the muscles in your calves and legs, you will provide additional support to the shin bone and can help reduce your risk of developing shin splints. Calf raises, toe raises and leg presses can help.
Though shin splints themselves are harmless (albeit painful), they are sometimes mistaken for more severe conditions such as a stress fracture, tendinitis or chronic exertional compartment syndrome (a buildup of pressure within the muscles).
If you suffer from shin splints and self-treatment options including rest, ice, stretching, and pain medicine have not improved your symptoms, contact your doctor. It is important to rule out other more serious conditions.