UW Health's Sports Medicine doctors in Madison, Wisconsin, treat a wide range of common athletic injuries, including shin splints.
About Shin Splints
The term “shin splints” describes several conditions due to inflammation of the muscle-tendon attachments to the lower leg bone (tibia). Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome is also used to describe shin splints. The term shin splints should not be used to describe specific point tenderness on the bone (possible stress fracture) or generalized lower leg muscle soreness (possible compartment syndrome).
Shin splint symptoms include pain and tenderness along the inner aspect of the bottom one-third of the lower leg (along the tibia). The posterior tibialis and soleus muscles attach to the tibia in this area. The function of these muscles is to support the arch of the foot and to point the foot downwards (plantarflexion). Shin splints are due to repetitive use of these muscles, causing inflammation at their attachment sites on the bone.
Many experts believe that shin splints are part of a continuum that eventually leads to a stress fracture if not treated. Signs of a stress fracture include pain that becomes more specific (point tender) and increases in intensity with activity and/or at night even when sleeping or resting.
- Tenderness along the bottom one-third of the lower leg (along the tibia)
- Pain/aching during activity that decreases with rest
- As the condition progresses, pain may occur with walking
- Sudden increases in activity level, such as running mileage, running intensity, aerobics or jumping
- Activity on hard, uneven or banked surfaces
- Worn or improper shoes
- Foot/leg alignment problems such as excessive pronation, tight muscles or tibial torsion
- Modified activity (cycling, swimming or pool running) or complete rest
- Ice/cold whirlpool for 15 to 20 minutes
- Orthotics or arch supports
- Lower leg muscle stretching
- Graduated strengthening exercises for the posterior tibialis muscle
- Anti-inflammatory medication as prescribed by a physician
- Once pain-free, gradually return to sports/activities