Shin Splints

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

What Are Shin Splints?

Shin Splints are a general way describe a pain in the lower leg. The pain is typically in the distal 2/3 of the lower leg. Shin Splints can be split into 2 categories:

  1. Anterior Shin Splints (front of the leg)
  2. Posterior Shin Splints (back of the leg)

Shin splint pain can come from several issues. These include:

Distal Tibia Shin Splint JOI REHABShin Splint X-Ray

What is Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome?

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome or MTSS is an issue that effects the inside part of the lower leg bone called the Tibia. It is believed that multiple structures in the medial tibial region are involved with the pain of Shin Splints including:

  • Periosteum (outer layer of the bone)
  • Muscle
  • Tendon

What Muscles Are Involved with Shin Splints?

Muscles associated with shin splint pain are:

  • Anterior Shin Splint Pain - Anterior Tibialis

Shin Splints anatomy label JOI REHABAnterior Tibialis

  • Posterior Shin Splint Pain - Posterior Tibialis

Anatomy Posterior tibialis muscle Shin Splint JOI REHABPosterior Tibialis

What Causes Shin Splints?

Shin splints can occur for several reasons:

  • Beginning a new running program
  • Running on an incline
  • Progressing too quickly with impact exercises
  • Old shoes with no cushion or support
  • Excessive body weight
  • Poor running technique or biomechanics

Shin Splints are more common with:

  • Dancers
  • Frequent starting and stopping with sports
  • Military Activity

How Can You Tell if You Have Shin Splints?

Shin splints typically hurt more during and after impactful exercise activities such as running. Shin splints can cause pain in the shin bones. 

There is typically pain in the inside and the front portion of the shin or tibia. A physician may diagnose shin splints. They may order x-rays or other films to rule out other bone or muscle issues.  

How Do You Heal Shin Splints?

The best way to heal shin splints is to rest them!  Bone and muscle tissue will heal, but limiting the excessive forces can help it heal faster and better.  You can also help the pain and healing process with:

  • Stretching
  • ice
  • massage
  • anti-inflammatories

What Do Shin Splints Feel Like?

Shin splints are small tears in the muscle and bone tissue in the front of the shin bone (tibia).  The pain can vary from mild to severe.  You will notice you have pain or soreness along the inside of your shin bone. Some report that it feels like razor blades in the inside/front of the lower leg.  Others report aching and soreness in the area with exercise.  Shin splints can also be very tender to the touch.  

Massaging of shin for shin splint JOI REHABPerson holding Shin due to Shin Splint

Can You Still Run with Shin Splints?

Shin splints typically hurt with running. The impact of running can irritate the micro-tears in the muscles and bone and cause pain to increase.  Pain may increase as running continues.  It is possible to run with shin splints, but it may make them worse.  

Running can lead to shin splints in some people. Running allows up to 6X the bodyweight to translate through the shin with every step. Over time, this force can cause micro-trauma to the muscle and bone tissue in the shins.  

If the foot's arch is stiff and rigid, the force of running may translate to the shin, which can lead to microtrauma in the muscle and bone tissue in the tibia. Orthotics may help to reduce the excessive impact forces with running with stiff arches.  

Do Shin Splints Go Away?

Shin splints can improve or go away, but it is important to address the cause. This may include

  • Stretching tight calf muscles
  • Orthotics
  • Altering running patterns
  • Strength training for the hip, knee, and ankle
  • Alter G Treadmill

What Are The Best Shin Splint Stretches?

The quick answer is the best stretches for shin splints is to stretch the calf muscles.  This can be done by standing on a step and dropping the heel off of the step.  

Place more weight on that leg to stretch the calf muscles more. Hold stretches for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. 

step stretch exercise for shin splints.Step stretch for shin splints

Does Massage Help Shin Splints?

Medical Massage Therapy can help with the pain of shin splints. Massage can break down abnormal scar tissue and promote proper muscle fiber movement. Massage may be uncomfortable. It is important to drink lots of water and use ice afterward to limit soreness. 

Related Links:

If you have shin splints that are not improving, the Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute and JOI Rehabilitation have the answers for you. To schedule an appointment with a JOI Doctor, call (904)JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. To schedule a physical therapy appointment, please call 904-858-7045.

Image of ehren allen dpt content writer at JOI

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