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Shin Splints


What is a shin splint?

A shin splint is damage to the muscles, tendons, and tissues of your shin. The damage leads to pain, tenderness, or swelling when you flex your toes toward your head.

What causes shin splints?

  • Running on an uneven or slanted surface
  • A sudden increase in time or distance when you exercise
  • Sports with frequent starts and stops, such as tennis
  • Shoes that do not fit or support your foot

What increases my risk for shin splints?

  • Not stretching and warming up before you exercise
  • High arches or flat feet
  • Overpronation (foot rolls inward when you run)
  • Stress to the shin, such as running on concrete or asphalt
  • Exercising after you have not exercised for a while

How are shin splints diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask questions about your pain and examine your shin. He will ask about your activities. You may need any of the following:

  • X-ray: This will show a bone fracture.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your shin. An MRI may show tissue or ligament damage. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How are shin splints treated?

  • Rest: Rest will help decrease pain and swelling.
  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your shin for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. You can also do an ice massage. Fill a paper cup with water and freeze it to make a large ice cube. Peel the paper away and put the ice cube on your injured shin. Rub in circles using medium pressure for 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 4 times each day.
  • Elevate: Raise your shin above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your leg on pillows or blankets to keep your shin elevated comfortably.
  • Wear proper shoes and shoe inserts: Choose the best shoes for your foot type and activity or exercise. Shoe inserts help support your heel or arch and decrease stress on your shins. These may be rubber, silicone, or felt pads. Shoe inserts also help prevent overpronation.
  • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling, pain, and fever. You can buy NSAIDs without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.

What are the risks of shin splints?

The pain may come back after you stop exercising. Without treatment, your shin pain can become constant. You may have pain when you exercise and when you rest.

How can shin splints be prevented?

  • Start to exercise slowly: For example, if you run, you may need to run shorter times and distances at first. Gradually increase your exercise as directed. Stop if you have pain.
  • Stretch and warm up before and after you exercise: This will help loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your shins.
  • Choose a different sport: Biking, swimming, and walking are exercises that put less stress on your shins.
  • Change where you exercise: Choose flat, even surfaces. Avoid concrete or asphalt. Exercise on softer surfaces such as grass, dirt, or rubber tracks.
  • Do shin splint exercises: These are exercises that help strengthen the muscles in your legs. Ask for more information about shin splint exercises.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your pain and swelling increase as you exercise.
  • You have pain at rest.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You fall and have severe shin pain.
  • Your shin is red, warm, and swollen.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.