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Shin Splints (Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome)

Pain felt in the front of your lower leg is often called “shin splints.” One common cause of this pain is tendinitis—inflammation of tendons (tough, cordlike bands of tissue that connect muscle to bone). When the tendons of the muscles near the shinbone (tibia) become inflamed, the pain is felt along the shin. Shin splints often affect athletes and runners, and are commonly due to overuse. A less common cause is flat feet with low arches.

Symptoms of shin splints

Symptoms of shin splints often start as a dull ache that gets worse over time. Pain may also be sharp or stabbing. Resting your legs often relieves the symptoms. Pain may occur both during or after activity. Later, the pain may become continuous with almost any activity.

Your evaluation

Your doctor will ask you questions about your activities and your health history. Be sure to tell your doctor about possible injuries. The diagnosis is usually made through the history and physical exam. There are no tests for shin splints, but your doctor may want to do some tests to rule out a stress fracture in your shinbone. These tests may include an X-ray, bone scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test.

Man lying on couch, reading, with legs supported by pillows. Ice pack is on front of lower legs.Treating shin splints

Follow these and any other instructions you are given.

  • Rest: Cut down on running and high-impact sports, or avoid them completely to allow your legs to rest and the injury to heal.

  • Ice: Put ice on the painful areas. Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas. Put a thin cloth between the cold source and your skin. Ice for 15 minutes every 3 hours.

  • Medications: Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, as directed by your doctor.

Preventing shin splints

To help prevent shin splints in the future:

  • Warm up before you run. Do gentle calf-stretching exercises.

  • Be careful not to overtrain.

  • Avoid running on hard or uneven surfaces.

  • If you have flat feet or low arches, consider orthotics or insoles for correction.

Be sure you are using running shoes with good support and cushioned soles.

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.