Shin splints, commonly known as ‘medial stress syndrome’ defines pain anywhere along the shin bone from the knee to the ankle. Overuse is the most common cause of shin splints, when someone tries to exercise over their current level of fitness. Exercise that requires high impact and load such as running are more likely to lead to this injury. The exact cause of shin splints is unknown. Recent research suggests it is most likely to be a stress reaction in the bone, but could be caused by the tendon or muscle pulling on the bone and creating inflammation.

Common causes of shin pain

Overuse: 

Activities such as running, jumping or dancing can cause repetitive stress and excessive strain on the muscles, tendons and bone tissues of the lower leg and can lead to shin splints

Footwear:

Wearing footwear that is worn out, not appropriate for the activity or foot type can contribute to the development of shin splints. 

Biomechanical issues:

A reduction in strength and structural imbalances can increase the risk of shin splints.

Load:

A rapid increase in training intensity, duration or frequency without allowing the body enough time to adapt can increase the chance of shin splints

Symptoms of shin splints

  • Pain and tenderness are the most common symptoms of shin splints. The pain is usually along the inner edge of the shinbone. It is usually dull and aching but can intensify during physical activity
  • Swelling may occur in some cases, however usually the area will feel tender to touch
  • The pain associated with medial stress syndrome may improve during the duration of the activity, however may become more intense after activity.
A group of runners along the beach in Parkdale, Melbourne.

Treatment of shin splints

  • Rest

As shin splints result from overuse it is important to consider reducing the activity load and allowing adequate rest between activities. 

  • Ice

Applying an ice pack to the shin for 15 – 20 minutes every few hours can help reduce pain and inflammation

  • Pain relief

Over the counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can help manage the pain and reduce inflammation. It is important to take only as prescribed by a health care professional. 

  • Change in footwear

Having your footwear assessed by a Podiatrist to make sure they have adequate cushioning for shock absorption and are appropriate for your foot type and type of activity. 

  • Strength program

It is important to undertake a strength program to work on the lower leg and efficiency of the body. A sports Podiatrist can give you a specific program to work on identified areas of reduced strength to help reduce the risk of medial stress syndrome. Consult a professional for guidance of appropriate exercises. 

  • Gradual return to activity

Once the pain reduces it is important to gradually ease back into activity to avoid an overuse injury again. The body needs time to adapt and heal. It is important your sports Podiatrist gives you a program with a gradual return to activity to meet your long term goals. This may include cross-training activities like swimming or cycling to help maintain fitness while reducing stress on the shins. 

Choose flat, softer surfaces to run on, such as running tracks, trails or grassy ovals. 

  • Biomechanical assessment

If you suspect the way you are moving, walking or running is contributing to your shin splints consider seeking a professional assessment to identify any structural abnormalities. A Podiatrist may deem appropriate orthotics if appropriate for your foot type and injury.

How can you prevent shin splints?

When training or participating in sport there are a few things we can implement to reduce the risk of shin splints. 

  1. Gradual progression – avoid a sudden increase in training intensity or duration. Gradually build up your activity levels by 10% each week. This will allow your body time to adapt and strengthen over time.
  2. Warm up and cool down – to prepare the muscles and prevent injury it is important to perform a proper warm up and cooldown post activity.
  3. Cross training – particularly when running or training for endurance events it is important to engage also in a variety of low impact activities. This will increase your cardio fitness whilst reducing the repetitive stress on your lower legs. This can include activities such as cycling, swimming, elliptical, cross-trainer and strength training

Need help managing your shin splints?

Shins splints can be incredibly painful and frustrating if not managed appropriately. With change in load and professional advice you can get back to your favourite activities stronger than ever before.

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