Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is pain around the tibia or shin bone due to inflammation of the tendons, muscles and bone tissue. It occurs as a result of vigorous physical activity such as with exercise or sports.
Common causes of shin splints are overuse from repetitive sports activities or a sudden change in the level of physical activity. Flat feet or rigid foot arches and the use of inappropriate or worn-out footwear while exercising may increase your risk of developing shin splints. Runners, military recruits and dancers are at a higher risk of developing shin splints.
Common symptoms include pain in the front side of the lower leg, which can be sharp or dull, throbbing or sore to touch. Pain may also be associated with mild swelling.
Your doctor will diagnose the condition through physical examination of the lower leg, and may order imaging tests to rule out other problems.
Treatment for shin splints consists of non-surgical procedures including:
- Rest: Ensure that your take adequate rest and avoid activities that cause pain. You can instead perform low-impact exercises, such as swimming or stationary bicycling.
- Medication: Your doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling.
- Ice: Apply ice packs wrapped in a cloth on the affected area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day for several days. Never place ice directly over the skin.
- Compression: Wrap your leg in an elastic bandage to reduce swelling.
- Flexibility exercises: Perform stretching exercises to reduce pain and improve muscle strength.
- Supportive shoes: Wear shoes that provide good cushioning and support the feet as they help reduce stress on the shin bone.
- Orthotics: Shin splits and shoe inserts may be helpful.
Surgical treatment is an option considered only in very severe cases when the conservative methods fail to relieve pain.
Shin splints can be prevented by following these measures:
- Wear well-fitting athletic shoes with good support.
- Warm up and stretch the leg muscles before starting any vigorous activities.
- Start any new activity slowly and progress gradually by increasing the duration and frequency of the exercise regimen.