What you need to know about Shin Splints

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What you need to know about Shin Splints

Shin Splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) can be summed up as a condition that is caused by doing TOO MUCH, TOO SOON…

Who Gets it?

This type of injury is most commonly seen in runners, dancers and also in sports with sudden starts and stops such as squash, basketball and tennis.

These activities place a considerable amount of pressure on the legs, especially if performed on hard surfaces and may cause injury to the bone and surrounding tissues.

This condition more often presents in beginner runners who tend to over exert themselves through their excitement for getting fit and healthy, which ends in pain and a dislike for running all together. With gradual progressive training, this can be avoided and the sport enjoyed.

Seasoned runners may also be at risk of shin splints if they abruptly change their training routine from running on flat surfaces to hill running or greatly increase their mileage.

What do Shin Splints feel like?

Shin splint pain concentrates in the lower leg between the knee and the ankle.

The pain is usually a dull ache on the front side of the lower leg (anterior shin splints) or on the inside part of the lower leg (medial shin splints).

Pain usually develops during exercise and one should never push through the pain as this can cause more permanent damage.

As the injury progresses, pain starts to occur with less activity and can be at its most painful when you try to lift your foot up with force at the ankle and flex your foot toward your knee.

Two simple tests to determine if you have medial tibial stress syndrome

If it’s not Shin Splints…what else could it be?

If you are suffering with pain in the front of your shins, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have shin splints, there may be another medical complication.

Here are 2 other conditions that may be mistakenly diagnosed for shin splints…

  1. Stress Fracture – stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone caused by the repetitive application of force, often by overuse. They can also arise from normal use of a bone that’s been weakened by a condition such as osteoporosis. This diagnosis is far more serious than shin splints and usually means no running or sport for at least four to six weeks.
  2. Compartment Syndrome – this occurs when excessive pressure builds up inside the leg and usually results from bleeding or swelling after an injury. The dangerously high pressure in compartment syndrome stops the flow of  blood to and from the affected tissues. It can be an emergency, requiring decompression surgery to prevent permanent injury.

What causes Shin Splints?

Shin Splints - Footality.com

  • Flat feet and overpronation
  • Doing too much too soon
  • Tight Calf muscles
  • Running on hard surfaces or slopes
  • Increased hip rotation
  • Poorly fitting, worn and un-supportive footwear
  • Being overweight, this places additional stress on the legs
  • Inadequate stretching
  • Ballistic sports and activities
  • Running on cambered roads placing excessive stress on one leg or one hip

How to treat Shin Splints.

Although not a single cause of shin splints has been identified and there is no definite consensus as to whether it is an inflammation of the muscle, tiny tears in the muscle that have pulled off the tibia or an inflammation of the periosteum, the medical sporting experts have agreed on how to treat them though.

When shin splints occur, experts have agreed for athletes to stop running all together and to rest to prevent any further injury or to significantly decrease your activity depending on when the pain starts while you exercise or run.

If you’re a keen athlete, this advice SUCKS because who wants to stop training for that big event or to reach your fitness goals or stop doing the exercise you love!

As much as it sucks, you’ve got to RESPECT your body and give it a chance to heal itself (it’s an amazing machine and does this pretty well, if you let it).

You can still keep your mind and body strong and healthy by doing low impact exercises that will not put as much strain on your legs. Cross-training will also help improve your overall performance. Cycling, swimming, yoga, rowing are just a few to choose from.

When shin splints strike…

  1. Rest up
  2. Apply ice packs to your shin to help reduce inflammation, swelling and ease pain.
  3. NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen or Aspirin will also help with pain.
  4. Wear the correct shoes for your foot type. If you overpronate, wear motion control shoes and if you have severe flat feet and overpronation, consult your podiatrist for a gait analysis and a biomechanical assessment. You may also benefit from an orthotic prescription depending on the findings of your assessment.
  5. Do gentle stretching exercises recommended by your podiatrist or physiotherapist, especially for your calves and achilles tendons.
  6. Use a neoprene sleeve to support your leg.
  7. Use kinesiology taping techniques for shin splints – SEE VIDEO.

Once your body has healed itself and it’s time to return back to running or your sporting activity…

  • Increase your mileage slowly, no more than 10% per week. For other sporting activities, gradually build up to your previous performance level.
  • Avoid hill running and excessively hard surfaces until your shin splints have gone completely and then gradually introduce them.


How to prevent Shin Splints.

  • Be self-aware, listen to your body and stop working out as soon as you feel pain in your shins.
  • Always build your workouts gradually.
  • Wearing supportive footwear when training and orthotics if necessary (flat feet).
  • Make stretching a daily habit, especially your calves and achilles.
  • Find a podiatrist if the root of your problem is biomechanical.



Founder of footality.com and fruitbatsocial.com. Podiatrist and Chief Foot Health Inspiration Officer (CFHIO). Travel and yoga are just a few of my passions.