Shin Splints: What You Need to Know

June 26th, 2018 Becki Andrus

Shin splints are a common sports injury, especially among children. Many promising high school football and soccer careers have been hindered by an untimely shin injury. However, their frequency isn’t all that makes shin splints so unfortunate. Shin splints can lead to harsh, long-lasting effects.

Shin Splints: What You Need to Know

Orthopedic injuries come in all shapes and sizes. From a major breakage to a small popping,  you never know what might crop up. However, the size of an injury doesn’t always determine how much damage it will do. A small shift in your spinal cord can cause major damage, but a break in the bones of an adult won’t have many side effects.

Shin and knee injuries are often much bigger than they seem. Even the slightest damage to the knee can hinder your ability to work for the rest of your life. This is what makes shin splints, a small injury, so threatening. They don’t just put you on the bench for a week. Symptoms can show up for the rest of your life. They are a common injury, so you should know about them. Here are all of the things you need to know about shin splints.

The Basics

Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints show themselves as a pain and/or a swelling in the shinbone. The pain normally isn’t unbearable, but it’s still pain — you certainly don’t want to be in it. The pain isn’t constant but can radiate for some time. Instead, it will occur as a result of stress on the shin. A person with medial tibial stress syndrome will notice pain after a long run, but might even feel it after sprinting to catch a bus. For some people, a walk to the car can become unbearable.

There are many different causes of shin splints, though the most common is certainly stress during exercise. Frequent, rough exercise can quickly wear down the cartilage in your shins, which is the first step down a slippery slope. This, of course, is why shin splints are so common among athletes. Frequent exercise can stress your shinbone, and the connective tissue around it, which then leads to inflammation and pain.

Of course, exercise isn’t the only cause. As a matter of fact, not exercising is just as likely to cause shin splints. Having weak hip or core muscles can misplace stress, sometimes to the shin. Exercising without proper warm ups and cool downs can do the same thing as frequent exercise, for obvious reasons. Flat feet might also lead to shin problems, as they can make the lower leg do extra work. Finally, shoes without proper support might lead to shin splints, for the same reason as flat feet.

The Long Term

Shin splints are easily treated, but care must extend beyond the symptoms. If your shins aren’t rested after your shin splints are treated, then symptoms can easily show themselves again. Inflammation passes quickly, but the cause of inflammation does not. Recurring shin splints are common, and, without full treatment, there is a possibility for permanent injury. It’s also important to not self-diagnose shin splints, as they can sometimes mask more severe injuries, like a stress fracture.

Shin splints also take much longer to heal than you might think. Many people, knowing that they are a common injury, simply wait for the pain to subside before getting back to life as normal. However, the average treatment actually takes 3 to 6 months. The first sign that your leg is healed is that it feels just as strong as the other one. Not that it isn’t in pain anymore, but that there is no weakness. Pain going away is a good sign, but not the only one. Additionally, you should be able to flex the injured leg just as much as the other. If you can’t, then the injury is still there. Remember that pain is not the only sign of a problem.


The treatment of shin splints is simple. It starts with rest, as most treatments do. A limb that is in active use can’t heal. Later in treatment, low-stress activity, such as swimming, is okay. A doctor might also recommend orthotics for your shoes, which add support to the shin.

Ice is the number one prescription for shin splints. Icing the shin for 20 or 30 minutes every 3-4 hours should relieve pain after as few as 4 days. However, if the pain is really bad, anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin might be in order.

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