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How Do You Heal Shin Splints?

Reviewed on 10/21/2020

What Are Shin Splints?

Shin splints are inflammation of the muscles and tendons in the shins. Rest and ice are the best treatment for shin splints.
Shin splints are inflammation of the muscles and tendons in the shins. Rest and ice are the best treatment for shin splints.

Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) describes pain in the shins results from inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around the shinbone (tibia). Shin splits can be painful but they usually are not serious.

What Are Symptoms of Shin Splints?

The main symptom of shin splints is pain along the front of the leg, below the knee and along the shinbone. The pain:

  • Usually occurs during or after exercise such as running
  • Can be sharp and razor-like or dull and throbbing
  • May be aggravated by touching the sore area
  • Can be accompanied by mild swelling in the area

What Causes Shin Splints?

Shin splints are usually caused by repetitive activity that overworks the muscle and bone tissue (periosteum) in the leg. They frequently occur after changes in frequency, duration, or intensity of exercise

Other factors that contribute to shin splints include:

  • Flat feet 
  • Abnormally rigid arches
  • Exercising with footwear that is worn out or inappropriate for the activity

People at high risk for developing shin splints include: 

  • Runners 
  • Dancers 
  • Military recruits 

How Are Shin Splints Diagnosed?

Shin splints may be diagnosed with a history and physical exam. 

Tests used to rule out other conditions that can cause shin pain such as stress fractures, tendinitis, and chronic exertional compartment syndrome include: 

What Is the Treatment for Shin Splints?

The mainstay of treatment to help heal shin splints includes the RICE method:

  • Rest
    • Especially if you are a runner: avoid running
    • Try low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling
  • Ice the affected area
    • Use a cold pack or ice wrapped in a towel
    • Ice 20 minutes at a time, several times a day
  • Compression with a compression bandage or stocking
  • Elevation of affected leg

Other treatment to help heal shin splints includes:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
  • Flexibility exercises to stretching the lower leg muscles 
  • Wearing supporting shoes with sufficient cushioning 
  • Orthotics such as shoe inserts may benefit people who have flat feet or recurrent problems with shin splints 

Patients should be pain-free for at least 2 weeks before attempting to return to activities that caused or aggravated the shin splints. Warm ups are important and training should begin at a lower intensity and increase gradually, and if pain returns, stop exercise immediately. 

Surgical treatment for shin splints is rare and reserved only for very severe cases that do not respond to nonsurgical treatment. 

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What Are Complications of Shin Splints?

Complications from shin splints are rare. If patients continue to exercise and do not treat shin splints with rest, a stress fracture may develop. 

How Do You Prevent Shin Splints? 

Shin splints may be prevented by:

  • Wearing the appropriate athletic shoe for the activity
  • Wearing shoes with extra cushioning
  • Gradually increasing the duration, intensity, and frequency of exercise
  • Cross training with low impact activities such as swimming or cycling 

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Reviewed on 10/21/2020
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