Shin splints are a
condition that causes pain and sometimes swelling in the
front part of the lower leg (shin). The pain is most likely from repeated stress on
the shinbone (tibia) and the tissue that connects the muscle to the tibia.
They are common in people who run or jog. Activities where you run or jump on
hard surfaces, such as basketball or tennis, can also lead to this painful
What causes shin splints?
Most people get shin
splints from repeated pounding on hard surfaces during activities such as
running, basketball, or tennis. You can also get them when you:
Change to new running or workout shoes or
wear shoes that don't have enough support. This can happen when you wear your
shoes too long and they wear out.
Run or walk on a different
surface than you are used to. For example, you might get shin splints when you
switch from running on a trail to concrete or asphalt.
harder than usual or train too hard or too fast instead of working up to a
training level gradually.
Some people have flat arches in their feet, which can
make the feet roll inward when running. This may also lead to shin
What are the symptoms?
Most people with shin
splints feel pain on the front lower part of the leg. Some people have mild
When you first notice the pain, it may just be at
the start of your workout and feel like a dull ache or soreness. If left
untreated, the pain can become sharper and last until you stop exercising. In
severe cases, the pain can continue even after you finish your workout.
How are shin splints diagnosed?
Your doctor will
be able to tell if you have shin splints by talking to you about your symptoms
and examining you. He or she may do an
X-ray to rule out other conditions, such as a
How are they treated?
In many cases you can use
home treatment to help relieve pain and swelling from shin splints.
Rest is often the best treatment for shin
splints. This doesn't mean that you have to stop exercising. The idea is that
you can exercise as long as it isn't painful. You may need to avoid high-impact
activities like running until you feel better, or at least cut back on how
often and how long you run. As you recover, it may help if you:
Choose low-impact activities such as
swimming or cycling instead of, or in combination with, running.
Run or exercise only on soft surfaces, such as dirt or
Run on level ground and avoid hills.
speed and distance when you run.
Ice helps to reduce pain and swelling. Apply
the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a
Elevate your lower leg on pillows while you apply ice and
anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep your lower leg at or above the level
of your heart to help minimize swelling.
Stretching exercises, such
as heel cord stretches, may also help.
Get a new pair of shoes. Pick shoes with good arch support and
a cushioned sole. Or try shoe inserts (orthotics). Use them in both shoes, even if only
one leg hurts.
You may also try
over-the-counter medicine. For example, ibuprofen
(such as Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (such as Aleve) can help relieve pain and
swelling. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) helps with pain.
your doctor if strengthening and
range-of-motion exercises are right for you.
After you feel better, don't go back to your old exercise routine too
quickly. Start slowly, and little by little increase how often and how long you
work out. If you start out too fast, your pain may come back.
Can shin splints be prevented?
There are things
you can do to help prevent shin splints.
Start slowly when you try a new activity.
For example, if you are new to running, increase the distance and pace of your
run over several weeks.
Wear shoes that fit your foot right. And
don't work out in shoes that are worn out.
If you have flat feet,
you may try a shoe insert to give you more support and cushion the impact of
exercising on hard surfaces.
If you are a runner, try
cross-training with a low-impact sport, such as swimming or cycling.
Other Places To Get Help
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
6300 North River Road
Rosemont, IL 60018-4262
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)
provides information and education to raise the public's awareness of
musculoskeletal conditions, with an emphasis on preventive measures. The AAOS
website contains information on orthopedic conditions and treatments, injury
prevention, and wellness and exercise.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American
Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Shin-splints. In JF Sarwark, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., pp. 724–725.
Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Bederka B, Amendola A (2010). Leg pain and exertional compartment syndromes section of The leg. In JC DeLee et al., eds., DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice, 3rd ed., vol. 2, pp. 1857–1864. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kenneth J. Koval, MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.