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Shin Splints Overview

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT November 22, 2019 0 Comments

Woman with shin splints

Shin splints can affect runners, athletes, and elderly people with active lifestyles. Shin splints are a stubborn injury that can be extremely intense. With a complex diagnosis and treatment process, having the right information is essential. In this guide, we’ll help you understand the root of your shin pain and how to overcome it.

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, involve inflammation of the bone tissue, tendons, and muscles around the tibia (shinbone). They typically develop after strenuous physical activity and are common for individuals beginning new fitness programs. Intense pain usually occurs along the inner edge of the tibia.

To determine whether you’re suffering from shin splints, location of the pain is important. There are two regions commonly affected by chronic shin splints: anterior and posterior.

  • Anterior Shin Splints

    Anterior shin splints present on the front area of the tibia and involve the tibialis anterior muscle, which actively lifts the foot and toes towards the shin and controls the opposite movement of returning the toes toward the ground (otherwise known as eccentric control).

    You may be suffering from anterior shin splints, or anterior tibial stress syndrome, if the pain intensifies when lifting the toes up while keeping heels on the floor.

  • Posterior Shin Splints

    Posterior shin splints are located on the inside rear area of the tibia. They affect the tibialis posterior muscle, which controls and lifts the medial part of the foot arch during the support stage of weight-bearing activities. You are likely suffering from posterior shin splints or a tibial stress fracture if you feel a dull, aching pain along the inside rear of your shinbone.

  • Shin Splints or Stress Fracture

    Constant shin pain does not always indicate shin splints. Shooting pain in the lower leg can be a stress fracture or a small crack or break in the fibula or tibia. This type of injury is far more serious than shin splints. To look for evidence of a stress fracture, press your fingertips along your shin and feel for sharp, localized pain. The pain caused by shin splints tends to be more generalized than that caused by a stress fracture.

  • Shin Splints or Compartment Syndrome

    Another somewhat common and very serious problem that shin splints can progress to is compartment syndrome. This is a progression of shin splint symptoms that leads to excessive pressure within a muscle compartment. If left untreated, this pressure can lead to severe muscle and nerve damage in addition to pain. Common symptoms include severe pain, a feeling of tightness, and swelling of the shin.

What Causes Shin Splints?

The exact cause of severe shin splints is not yet fully understood, but typically, shin splints are caused by overuse or overtraining of muscles attached to the shin bone.

Too much sprinting, running, or jumping often causes shin splints, but the injury may also occur due to improper form and abnormal movement patterns. Determining the underlying cause is essential to deciding which treatment for shin splints will be most effective. Below are common causes of shin splints:

  • Increasing training intensity too quickly
  • Oversupination of the feet
  • Overpronation of the feet
  • Running on angled or hard surfaces
  • Poor knee and hip alignment
  • Tight hamstrings or calf muscles
  • Poor core stability
  • Stiff foot arch
  • Hyperflexibility of the foot arch 
  • Limited range of motion at the toes, ankle, or knee

Shin Splints Symptoms

The symptoms of shin splints often arise gradually. What do shin splints feel like? They hurt! With shin splints, pain is usually worse the next morning and eases over time. Then it may become painful again later on. Typically, shin splints cause dull muscle aches before progressing to mild shooting pains with tenderness and swelling. Bruising and small bumps on the shin may also appear.

The most common trigger for shin pain is beginning a fitness regimen too aggressively. Shin splints from walking occur when you increase your distance and speed quickly. Shin splints can become so severe that even standing causes throbbing pain.

Shin Splints Diagnosis

An early and accurate diagnosis is key to speed the healing of shin splints. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination after discussing your symptoms, previous activities, and general health.

Additional imaging tests, such as X-rays or bone scans, may be required to confirm the signs of shin splints or to rule out other injuries.

Shin Splints Recovery

The healing time of shin splints depends on their cause. Although each injury is different, the common shin splints recovery questions below will help you to gain insight into your situation. Consult your doctor with any questions.

How Long Do Shin Splints Last?

People recover at different rates, but three to six months is the typical recovery time. If the pain subsides in two to four weeks, you may slowly return to activities. Avoid aggravating bad shin splints—doing so may lead to more serious conditions.

Can You Run with Shin Splints?

Running with shin splints can be extremely dangerous and will only exacerbate the problem. When shin splints strike, stop running to let your shins heal. Consider low-impact activities, such as swimming or bike riding, to stop shin splints from getting worse. When you return to running, increase your mileage slowly and pay close attention to your form to keep your shin splints from coming back.

Follow-Up Care

Once you recover from shin splints, prevention is necessary to keep your shins healthy. Exercise in a moderate and healthy way. This means keeping good form with all weight-bearing activities. Increase duration and intensity of exercises gradually to ensure your body is prepared.

During the recovery process, here are some simple and effective treatment options to keep in mind.

If you are prone to shin pain, ask your doctor how to avoid shin splints during your follow-up appointment.


Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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