Everything You Need to Know About Shin Splints

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You’ve probably heard of shin splints. Perhaps you’ve even had them yourself. Chances are, if you’re a runner, you most likely have. Up to 16.8 percent of runners have shin splints at one point during their life. Other types of exercise, like aerobics, are also notoriously linked to shin splints. For example, 22 percent of aerobic dancers' experience shin splints!

But shin splints aren’t just experienced by people who exercise rigorously. In fact, anyone can get shin splints. So, what are shin splints? How do you know if you have shin splints? What causes them? What are your treatment options? In this article we’re going to cover all this and more. So, keep reading to learn everything you need to know about shin splints.

What are shin splints?

Shin Splints, also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS)

Shin Splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue surrounding your tibia - also known as your shinbone. Your shinbone connects the knee joint to the ankle, spanning the entire length of the calf.

Shin splints cause pain across the tibia. The pain is caused by inflammation and repeated strain. Shin splints are a common condition, affecting up to three million people in the U.S. per year.

What are the symptoms of shin splints?

So how do you know if you have shin splints? It’s a fairly unique sensation - your shin literally feels like it’s splitting. This feeling may be a burning sensation, dull or sharp pain, or be tender to the touch, all depending on the severity.

Shin splints are usually felt after hard exercise, sports, or repetitive activity. It’s not often that you feel shin splints during exercise. Most people report shin splint pain after exercise. However, if you do experience it at the start of a workout, it might be due to a lack of warm up and you should make sure to stop as soon as this pain is felt.

Aside from the pain, you may be able to tell if you have shin splints by looking at the tibia. You may have swelling, redness, or lumps and bumps felt along the bones. If visible signs of shin splints are seen, this indicates the condition is severe and it’s important to seek medical advice to prevent the problem from spreading into a longer term condition.

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What are the causes of shin splints?

The most obvious cause of shin splints is overuse. If you exercise too vigorously, too frequently, you are at risk of developing this condition. When you do so, your body is placed under periods of repeated strain and stress, and insufficient time is taken to recover and treat the inflammation and muscle and bone damage.

Man running in forest

Similarly, if you run too frequently or increase your mileage too rapidly, you can cause shin splints. It’s important to slowly increase your running mileage, particularly if you are a beginner runner or overcoming an injury. You need to give your body time to adapt to the stress and strain of impact.

Wearing the wrong shoes during exercise can also cause shin splints. Your feet are responsible for absorbing and dispersing the impact of your body hitting the ground. A good pair of shoes will have sufficient cushioning to soften the shock and reduce the amount of impact to be dispersed up your body. If you wear flat shoes without cushioning or arch support, the impact radiates up your shins and can put undue stress on the tibia, resulting in shin splints.

But it’s not just avid exercisers who are at risk of shin splints. You’re at risk if you:

  • Spend a lot of time on your feet
  • People with flat feet
  • People with rigid or high arches
  • People who wear improper shoes during exercise
  • Have a vitamin D deficiency
  • Have osteoporosis

What can shin splints be mistaken for?

It’s easy to assume you have shin splints if you feel pain in your lower leg, because the condition is so common. However, it’s not the only possible explanation for pain in the shins. You may have tendinopathy or a stress fracture.

Anterior tibial tendonitis is a painful condition involving the breakdown of cartilage in your tibia. It causes inflammation in the muscle that runs down the front of your shins - the tibialis anterior tendon. Similar to shin splints, it’s caused by overuse. However, it’s persistent and won’t respond the same to shin splint treatments. It’s important to get an MRI if you are feeling a nagging pain in the base of your shin.

When shin splints go untreated, you can cause a stress fracture. However, you can also get a stress fracture from injury or cumulative trauma to the muscles and bones. They occur when muscles become fatigued or overloaded and cannot absorb the stress or shock of repeated impacts.

What is the treatment for shin splints?

  1. Rest

As shin splints are an overuse injury, it’s essential that you take a couple of weeks off exercise to allow your tibia to repair and heal. This might be difficult initially, but it can solve the problem before it gets worse.

  1. Ice

Icing the shins after exercise can help to relieve inflammation that may be causing shin pain. Ice for ten to 20 minutes a few times a day while you are resting from your activity.

  1. Wear the right shoes

Wear supportive shoes with cushioning and arch support. For an added benefit, wear insoles or orthotics. These can help your shoes fit better, to give your feet the support they need to absorb shock rather than have it radiating up your shin. Click here to shop custom insoles.

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