The term “shin splints” refers to pain along the shinbone (tibia) — the large bone in the front of your lower leg. The pain is the result of an overload on the shinbone and the connective tissues that attach your muscles to the bone.
Shin splints are most commonly due to overuse. When the overuse causes irritation to the tendons and the attachment of these tendons to the bone, the condition is called medial tibial stress syndrome. This is what most people are talking about when they use the words shin splints as a diagnosis.
Medial tibial stress syndrome, or shin splints as most people call this problem, is commonly seen in athletes who suddenly increase their duration or intensity of training. This type of shin splints may also be seen in athletes who have very high demand training levels, such as marathon runners, even if their training levels are not dramatically increased.
Most cases of shin splints respond to nonsurgical treatments. Rest plays a key role in decreasing pain and inflammation. Patients are usually encouraged to stop doing the activity that caused the problem, at least until their symptoms are under control. Applying cold packs and taking anti-inflammatory medications calm pain and inflammation and are useful in the early stages of treatment.
Special taping techniques may be used to support the sore tissues and ease pain. However, taping should be used to help the area heal, not as a way to keep on training.
Patients may be encouraged to purchase a pair of shock-absorbing shoe insoles. People with flat arches may need shoe inserts, called orthotics, to support the arch.
Doctors may have their patients work with a physical therapist. Therapists apply treatments to reduce pain and inflammation. Whenever possible, the underlying problems causing the shin splints are also addressed. The therapist may offer ideas to avoid overuse while training, evaluate your running style, and suggest tips on footwear. Treating the main cause will normally help get rid of shin splints.
In rare instances, an injection of cortisone along the edge of the muscular connection to the bone may be used. However, cortisone is used very sparingly because it can weaken the soft tissues of the tibialis muscles.