What are Shin Splints?

August 9th, 2020 Becki Andrus
What Are Shin Splints?

When you get home after your daily workout session, do you sometimes feel an aching in your shins? Running and jogging can be a great way to get your heart rate up, but it can be frustrating if you experience increasing pain because of shin splints.

What are Shin Splints?

You’ve probably heard this term before, but what does it mean if you have shin splints? The official medical term is “tibial stress syndrome.” This aching and throbbing in the shins happen when you have stress on the connective tissues and muscles around the shinbone.

The tibia is the long bone in the front of your leg, below the knee. Over time, this area can become painful and inflamed, causing chronic issues that not only disrupt your workout routine – but can also impact many other areas of your life.

Shin splints are common injuries in athletes, runners, and dancers – any activity that puts repetitive stress on the shinbone and connective tissues. When the training routine intensifies or changes suddenly, it can overwork the muscles and tendons, causing inflammation.

Symptoms of shin splints include tenderness, pain, and soreness on the inner area of your shinbone. Sometimes, you might notice a slight swelling in this area. The pain increases when you are exercising.

In the beginning stages, you might notice that the pain stops when your workout is over. But if shin splints are left untreated, then the issue can progress to chronic pain that you feel throughout the day.

Eventually, you might experience a stress fracture in the bone because of the ongoing pressure and inflammation.

Common Causes of Shin Splints

Here are some of the most common causes of this condition:

  • Poor Quality Shoes: If your shoes don’t provide good support or don’t fit your feet correctly, then it can have a domino effect that impacts your shins.
  • Flat Feet: The way you step provides a foundation for the overall structure of your body. If the arch collapses, then it could impact the stress on the muscles and connective tissues in your legs.
  • Warmup and Cooldown: When you are working out, it’s important to support your muscles with a good warmup and cooldown routine. Skipping the warmups and stretches could put undue stress on your shins, leading to injury.
  • Weak Structure: The quality of your hips, ankles, and core muscles affect the structure of your shins and leg muscles.
  • Terrain: The terrain where you are training can affect the development of shin splints. For example, some people find that running on concrete aggravates shin splits. Other people experience an increase in symptoms when they are running on uneven terrains, such as trails or hills.

It is common to get shin splints if you make sudden changes in your routines. For example, increasing the intensity, frequency, or length of your workouts could lead to the development of pain.

Shin Splint Treatments

Shin splints can heal on their own, but you need to give them time to heal. If you try to push through the pain, then it is likely that the problem will continue to get worse.

Schedule an appointment to talk to a doctor about potential issues that could be contributing to your shin splints, as well as possible treatments to speed up your healing timeframe.

Simple treatments for shin splints include:

  • Take a Break: The pain in your shins is happening for a reason. If your body is cueing you that an injury is happening, then listen to your pain and adjust your workout routine. Taking a break might be just what the doctor ordered. The most important thing you can do is not rush back into your workout routine. Instead, try a low-impact activity such as swimming or cycling.
  • Ice: Ease the swelling and pain by placing ice on your shins. Be proactive with your icing schedule, with 20 to 30-minute sessions every 4 hours for 2 to 3 days (or until the pain subsides).
  • Orthotics: If your shin splints are affected by the position of your feet, then shoe orthotics can help to reduce the risk of collapsed arches. Talk to a doctor about custom-made orthotics that support your feet when you are standing and moving.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Medication: When the pain is intense, anti-inflammatory medication not only helps you find relief – but it also helps to reduce the inflammation that is contributing to your problem. These medications offer a short-term solution since they can have side effects.
  • Physical Therapy: When the pain persists after following the above at-home treatments, then it might be time to talk to a physical therapist about your condition. Medical services can be helpful to ensure that you don’t have any fractures or cracks in the tibia contributing to your pain.

You will be able to tell when your shins have healed because the pain subsides, flexibility returns, and your legs feel strong and balanced. Also pay attention to how you feel when you jump, sprint, or jog. If the shin splints have healed, then you should be able to move without triggering pain or discomfort.

Prevention Tips for Shin Splints

While the above treatments can be helpful in reducing the pain of shin splints, it’s important that you are proactive to prevent the pain before it starts.

Here are a few helpful tips to reduce the likelihood of shin splints:

  • Moderate Exercise Routines: The risk of shin splits goes up if you over-do your workouts. Running too much or participating in high-impact activities can put increased stress and pressure on your shins.
  • Invest in Good Shoes: Quality footwear goes a long way to support the overall structure of your body. If you are a runner, then your shoes should be replaced every 350 – 500 miles.
  • Shoe Insoles: Medical arch supports can be helpful, as mentioned above. Another option is to use shock-absorbing insoles in your shoes.
  • Cross Training: Lessen the impact on your shins by switching up your workout routine throughout the week. Choose lower-impact exercises, and talk to your doctor or physical therapist for personal recommendations. Whenever you are starting a new exercise routine, it’s important to increase the intensity and time gradually.
  • Strength Training: Cardio is good for your health, but you should also include strength training in your workout schedule. These exercises can help to provide stability for your ankles, legs, core, and hips. Strength training is great preparation for high-impact sports.
  • Stretching: Gentle warmup and cool-down stretches can be helpful to reduce the likelihood of shin splint development.

Our team at Orthopedic Associates offers a variety of services to help with sports injuries and chronic pain.

Contact us to schedule an exam. We will help you identify the underlying issues, then design a personalized treatment plan to assist with your recovery.

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