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  • Writer's pictureHannah Foster-Middleton


After an intense workout session, you feel a shooting pain down the front of your leg and assume it is muscle strain following a break from exercise. Yet in many cases, the pain is caused by shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).

The discomfort is caused by inflammation of the tendons, bone tissue, and muscles around your tibia – or shin bone – and it frequently occurs after a sudden change to your fitness routine that overworks your muscles in the process.

While any athlete is susceptible, runners, dancers, and gymnasts are at elevated risk for shin splints. A strategic approach to your fitness routine and wearing the right gear can reduce the likelihood of future incidents.

Causes of Shin Splints

Shin splints are an overuse injury that affects the muscles and tendons. Several activities may cause the condition, including:

·         You’ve pushed yourself harder, increasing the frequency, length, or intensity of your routine.

·         You started a new exercise routine or high-impact training but didn’t take it slowly.

·         You run over hard, steep, or uneven surfaces, like concrete or hills.

·         Your feet are flat or have a higher-than-average arch without much flexibility.

·         You engage in an activity with frequent stops and starts, like tennis, soccer, or basketball.

·         Your shoes are not right for the activity – for instance, cleats rather than running shoes.

·         Certain muscles in your lower half, such as your thighs, are weak.

·         You haven’t warmed up and your muscles are less flexible.

·         You don’t use proper form or training techniques.

In any of these scenarios, a large amount of force is placed on the shin bone and surrounding tissues. The intense and sudden pressure causes inflammation of the adjacent muscles and puts stress on the tibia.

In some instances, shin splints are an indirect symptom of a stress fracture related to one of these activities or instances. The intense force creates small cracks on your leg bones that become larger without rest, resulting in a complete or stress fracture and muscle inflammation.

Symptoms of Shin Splints

The following signs often indicate you’re dealing with shin splints:

·         A tender, aching, dull, or sore sensation along the inside of your shinbone that lingers.

·         Your lower legs appear or feel swollen.

·         The pain intensifies before and after exercise and does not fully go away when you stop.

·         The pain worsens when you press down on the area.

In the early stages, rest will greatly improve shin splints, although the condition itself takes three to six months to fully heal. Pushing through the pain often worsens the condition and increases your risk of a stress fracture. Before it gets to this point:

·         Avoid repetitive routines or consider stepping away from exercise for two to four weeks.

·         To stay active, opt for low-impact routines like swimming, walking or biking.

·         Ice the area multiple times per day, stretch, and use over-the-counter painkillers in moderation.

·         Once the pain fully dissipates, don’t jump right back into your old routine. Instead, start slowly and gradually increase your activity level. Otherwise, you risk another injury.

Preventing Future Shin Splints

As you think about returning to your routine, take steps to avoid shin splints down the road:

·         Make sure you’re wearing the proper shoes for the activity and your foot shape. You may need to wear orthotics or shock-absorbing insoles.

·         Work with a physical therapist on exercises to stretch and strengthen your leg muscles, properly warm up and cool down, and train without overworking your muscles.

·         Do some warm-up stretches before your routine and follow it with a proper cooldown.

·         Get in the habit of icing your shins to reduce any swelling.

·         Think about where you’re working out; consider avoiding hard surfaces and hills.

·         Examine your form and movement, with a therapist or by watching yourself work out.

·         Time your workouts, including how much high-impact exercise you do.

·         Any time you begin a new routine or activity, remind yourself to start slow.

Have you recently been through a bout of shin splints or want to avoid them in the future? Contact your physiotherapist today!


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