Shin Splints: What They Are and How to Treat Them

shin splints

If you’ve ever had shin splints, you know they’re not only uncomfortable, but they can also keep you from running or working out as hard as you’d like.

Since there are so many things that can cause shin splints, and since there are so many possible treatments, the best way to treat your shin splints depends on what caused them in the first place, and how severe your symptoms are.

Here’s what you need to know about shin splints to treat them effectively and get back to exercising quickly and safely.

What are shin splints?

Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), are injuries that occur when muscles, tendons, or bones in your shin become inflamed. The most common cause of shin splints is overuse. Other possible causes include direct trauma or a sudden increase in intensity level. Shin splints often develop after increasing your physical activity level.

Shin splints symptoms

The most common symptom is pain in one or both shins, usually at either end of your shinbone near where it attaches to your foot or knee. You might also feel tenderness when pressing on these areas. You could have just one or two small areas of pain—or you might experience aches all along your shins.

Aching muscles in your calves are also a common symptom, although they’re not part of the syndrome itself.

Causes of shin splints

shin splints (1)

Shin splints symptoms are caused by micro-tears in your muscles. Essentially, you do too much too fast.

Shin splints are a common injury among athletes, with up to 80% of people experiencing shin splint pain at some point in their lives. According to MedicineNet, shin splints are caused by overuse or trauma on your tibia (shin bone). The tibia is a long bone that runs along your inner leg and connects at your ankles. They can happen when you run on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt for an extended period of time. However, they can also occur due to sudden jumps in physical activity. Although most people do recover from them without any lasting effects, they should still be taken seriously because it could eventually lead to stress fractures in your leg bones.

Another good read: 5 Strength Training Mistakes as a Beginner

Treatment

In most cases, shin splints can be treated at home by following a few simple steps. The first step is R.I.C.E.—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—which should be applied as soon as you realize you have shin splints or even if you think they might be developing. As your muscles get tired from using them too much, they’ll swell up with fluid; keeping them elevated can help reduce the swelling.

You can also take anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, for pain relief. Painkillers are fine for short-term use—such as when you’re having a flare-up—but they shouldn’t be used too frequently. Your doctor may also prescribe some stronger painkillers, such as tramadol or diclofenac, but these should be taken under professional supervision only.

Stretching of calf muscles can relieve pain if done several times a day before running. If you have mild symptoms that are getting worse or are so bad that you can’t run at all, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible for treatment or even surgery. In most cases though, shin splints respond well to non-surgical treatment.

Another good read: Training, Overtraining and Recovery tips

Prevention

The most effective way to treat them is to avoid them in the first place. To do that, you’ll need to strengthen your calves through various types of exercises such as high intensity interval training (HIIT), squats, calf raises, step-ups and plyometrics. Add these into your routine at least once per week for a few months before you begin a new running program or a more intense one.

This will ensure that your body is prepared for what it’s about to encounter. For example, HIIT could be done on an exercise bike or simply by walking uphill instead of down. By doing so you are using gravity against itself in order to put stress on your calves—much like hills do while running—and thus avoiding injury as a result.

Another way to prevent shin splints is by wearing appropriate trainers or shoes. Over-pronation, which occurs when your feet roll inwards too much as you land during running, is one of most common causes of the pain. To tell if you over-pronate, look at your shoelaces while you’re walking—if they’re moving from side to side rather than staying straight ahead, then it could be a sign that you over-pronate and need a shoe that supports your feet better.

Wearing motion control shoes with a built-in arch support can also help keep your foot stable and prevent injuries like shin splints. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone who over-pronates experiences pain.

The best shoes for over-pronation

Summary

The medical term for shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). It is a condition that can occur when you participate in running or other activities that put pressure on your tibia. The symptoms include pain, tenderness, and sometimes swelling in one or both of your shins. If it persists, you may also notice muscle tightness, weakness, and altered walking patterns.

The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to treat shin splints. In fact, most people recover from the pain with conservative treatment measures—that is, without surgery.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this post and you are ready to treat your shin pain. If you have enjoyed today’s post, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be updated when new posts are updated.

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