Many athletes get shin splints — also called tibial stress syndrome — at one time or another. Whether you jog daily or just had to sprint to catch a bus one day, you may have shin splints when you feel throbbing and aching in your shins. While they often heal on their own, severe shin splints can ruin your game.
Shin splints aren’t really a single medical condition. Instead, they’re just a symptom of an underlying problem. They might be caused by:
- Irritated and swollen muscles, often caused by overuse.
- Stress fractures, which are tiny, hairline breaks in the lower leg bones.
- Overpronation or ”flat feet” — when the impact of a step causes the arch of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons.
Shin splints are very common. They’re the cause of 13% of all running injuries. Runners might get them after ramping up their workout intensity, or changing the surface they run on — like shifting from a dirt path to asphalt. Shin splints are also common in dancers.
What Do Shin Splints Feel Like?
Shin splints cause dull, aching pain in the front of the lower leg. Some people feel it only during exercise; others, when they’ve stopped exercising. Sometimes, the pain is constant.
Depending on the exact cause, the pain may be located along either side of the shinbone or in the muscles. The area may be painful to the touch. Swollen muscles can sometimes irritate the nerves in the feet, causing them to feel weak or numb.
To diagnose shin splints, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. He or she may want to see you run to look for problems. You may also need X-rays or bone scans to look for fractures. Other tests are sometimes necessary.
What’s the Treatment for Shin Splints?
Although shin splints may be caused by different problems, treatment is usually the same: Rest your body so the underlying issue heals. Here are some other things to try:
- Icing the shin to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone.
- Anti-inflammatory diet. Eating a diet that is anti-inflammatory, like Paleo or Primal, can help with inflammation, healing, and recovery in general. .
- Arch supports for your shoes. Orthotics, which can be custom-made or bought off the shelf, may help with flat feet relieving shin strain and stress.
- Range of motion exercises, if your doctor recommends them.
- Neoprene sleeve to support and warm the leg.
- Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles in your shins.
In rare cases, surgery is needed for severe stress fractures and other problems that can cause shin splints.
When Will My Shin Splints Feel Better?
There’s no way to say exactly when your shin splints will go away. It depends on what’s causing them. People also heal at different rates — three to six months is not unusual.
The most important thing is not to rush back into your sport. If you start exercising before your shin splints have healed, you hurt yourself permanently.
While you heal, you could take up a new non-impact activity that won’t aggravate your shin splints. For instance, runners might try swimming.
Your shin splints are fully healed when:
- Your injured leg is as flexible as your other leg.
- Your injured leg feels as strong as your other leg.
- Your can jog, sprint, and jump without pain.
- Your X-rays are normal or show any stress fractures have healed.
How Can I Prevent Shin Splints?
To prevent shin splints, you should:
- Always wear shoes with good support and padding.
- Warm up before working out, making sure to stretch the muscles in your legs.
- Stop working out as soon as you feel pain in your shins.
- Don’t run or play on hard surfaces like concrete.