In this Article

Shin splints is a lower leg injury that occurs most often in athletes who increase their training routine too quickly. They appear most often in runners, dancers, and people in the military. They are best treated with rest, ice, and lower-impact training exercises.

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints is a leg injury that usually comes from intense exercise on hard surfaces, like basketball, running, or other impact sports. A common symptoms of shin splints is pain in the front of your lower leg when you exercise. The condition occurs most often in athletes who are working out harder than they usually do. The extra activity can make the muscles and tendons wear out.

Shin splints is usually not a serious injury, but it can make it hard to walk or do the things you do every day if you don’t take care of them. Rest, ice, better shoes, or lower-impact exercise can all help reduce the symptoms and risks of shin splints.

The symptoms of shin splints show up after you’ve been exercising harder than you usually do, especially on hard surfaces like a basketball court or a running track. Symptoms can include:

  • Tenderness, pain or soreness in the shins
  • Mild swelling
  • Pain that gets worse when exercising
  • Pain even when not walking (severe shin splints)

Some of these symptoms can also be signs of other, serious conditions, like a stress fracture of the bones in your leg, so you should keep track of your symptoms and talk to a doctor if they get worse.

Symptoms

The symptoms of shin splints show up after you’ve been exercising harder than you usually do, especially on hard surfaces like a basketball court or a running track. Symptoms can include:

  • Tenderness, pain or soreness in the shins
  • Mild swelling
  • Pain that gets worse when exercising
  • Pain even when not walking (severe shin splints)

Some of these symptoms can also be signs of other, serious conditions, like a stress fracture of the bones in your leg, so you should keep track of your symptoms and talk to a doctor if they get worse.

When to See a Doctor

You should talk to a doctor about your shin splints if:

  • The pain from the shin splints continues even after you ice, rest, and take pain relievers
  • You think the pain is from something that isn’t shin splints
  • The swelling is not going down
  • Your shin is red and feels hot

The doctor may check to see if you have a stress fracture or another shin problem.

Causes

Shin splints is caused by exercising too hard or too much. Runners, dancers, and gymnasts are most at risk for shin splints. The main causes of shin splints include:

  • Doing a lot of running or doing too much after you have only just started
  • Training harder or more than you’re used to
  • Exercising in a way that stops and starts often, like dancing, basketball, or marching

There are some risk factors that make it more likely for you to get shin splints:

  • Having rigid arches
  • Having flat feet
  • Exercising on hard surfaces like the street or a tennis court
  • Wearing shoes with poor support

Diagnosis and Tests

To diagnose shin splints, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms. The doctor may also ask about how hard you have been exercising and what sport you have been playing. Your doctor may recommend an x-ray to check for stress fractures or other sources of leg pain.

 

Treatments

The best treatment for shin splints is to let your legs rest. You may need to stop the sport or exercise for 2 to 4 weeks before the shin splints start to feel better. It can take 3 to 6 months for them to heal completely.

During that time, try to keep the impact on your legs low, and don’t rush back into your sport or activity — you may injure your legs again or it may take longer for them to heal. While you wait, you can try other ways to exercise that have less impact on your legs, like riding a bike or swimming.

 

Shin splints can be treated using the RICE method. RICE stands for:

  • Rest: Avoid putting weight on the shins, and avoid participating in normal activities until your shins get better.
  • Ice: Use an ice pack (you can also use a bag of frozen vegetables if you do not have an ice pack) for 15-20 minutes, three times a day. Do not put ice directly on your skin. Do not use dry ice.
  • Compression: Use an elastic bandage or compression brace to help put pressure on the shins and reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: Raise (elevate) your legs above the level of your heart to help keep swelling down. You can do this by lying down on a couch or floor and placing pillows under your feet and legs until your shins are higher than your chest.

You can also try the following:

  • Stretching exercises
  • Arch supports for your shoes, or get shoes that absorb shock better.
  • Visit a physical therapist. They can help with the pain or teach you ways to treat it yourself.

Prevention

There are several things you can do to avoid shin splints.

  • Don’t exercise too hard, too quickly. Work up slowly to longer distances or more intense exercise routines.
  • Be sure to stretch and warm up before exercising
  • Use ice on your shins to avoid swelling
  • Don’t exercise on hard surfaces if you can
  • Wear shoes that provide the right support and cushion
  • Do lower-impact exercises like biking or swimming
  • If you already have shin splints, take your time and don’t get back to exercising too quickly.

Support and Resources

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00407