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What are Shin Splints?

Michael Pollick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The vague medical term "shin splints" has largely been replaced by the more accurate term medial tibia stress syndrome or MTSS, but many athletes, dancers and soldiers still use the older term. Shin splints is a painful condition in which the bone tissue and thin membranes of the lower shin bone become inflamed. The most common cause of shin splints is overexercising, especially during running or repetitive jumping maneuvers. Shin splints/MTSS is one of the most common injuries reported by runners and professional aerobic dancers.

During an average run, the lower legs receive a significant amount of stress as the feet strike hard ground or concrete. Ordinarily, cushioned running shoes and a proper running stride will minimize this shock, but runners with worn shoes, pronated feet or flat arches receive even more stress on their shin bones. The result of all of this pounding is an inflammatory pain felt in a two or three inch area of the lower shin bone. This is shin splints, although doctors may suspect a more serious condition called a stress fracture.

The most common treatment for shin splints is at least one week of rest. Ice packs or a light elastic bandage may also help minimize the pain, along with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain pills or creams. Shin splints eventually heal, but returning to a stressful activity too soon can cause them to flare up again quickly. This is why many doctors and coaches suggest a two to four week restriction on running after recovering from shin splints. Low impact cross-training on bicycles or treadmills may be allowed, however.

Shin splints rarely require any surgical intervention, and a number of orthopedic specialists question the effectiveness of the surgeries currently performed. The key to avoiding shin splints is proper training. Stretching the lower leg muscles during warm-ups will allow the ankle to get a better push-off between strides. Shoes should have strong arch support and sufficient padding. Runners and dancers should not push themselves past their limits, especially if the pain in their lower legs becomes intense and localized.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Nov 26, 2012

How much difference does a good pair of shoes make if you are trying to prevent shin splints? I had these once when I was younger and remember how uncomfortable they can be. I would like to start an aerobic exercise program, and want to make sure I wear shoes that give me a lot of support.

By Mykol — On Nov 26, 2012

I have flat arches, and found out that running on concrete is not good for me. I had shin splints so bad that I could barely walk. It took weeks for the pain to go away, and even longer than that before I could exercise again. I completely changed my exercise routine.

I had been running outside in the mornings when I got the shin splints so bad. Since then, I have changed to swimming. I find this to be much easier on my body and I don't have to worry about the elements outside when I want to exercise.

When I had shin splints, almost any kind of leg movement would cause pain. Just getting up from a chair and taking a few steps would be painful. The best shin splints relief I found was taking over-the-counter medication, and staying off my legs as much as possible.

By julies — On Nov 25, 2012

The first time I experienced shin splints was when I was running track in high school. I was in so much pain, I thought something was seriously wrong. When I was told I just needed to rest and quit running for several weeks, I was actually relieved. I had no idea how painful these could be.

Ever since then, I am much more cautious about not exercising too soon when I am trying something new. I have had them again since that first time, but they weren't nearly as bad. I also make sure and do stretching exercises when I am warming up to try and prevent getting shin splints again.

By Iwant2know — On Sep 08, 2009

I have shin splits and they drive me crazy. Thanks.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to The Health Board, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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