Orthopedic Specialists

Shin Splints: What They Are and How to Prevent Them

August 23, 2023

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What are shin splints?

Medial tibial stress syndrome (often called shin splints), is a lower leg injury common in athletes and individuals engaging in high-impact activities. These painful sensations primarily affect the bones of the lower leg, particularly the tibia (shinbone) and the surrounding connective tissues. Shin splints are a common injury, especially among runners, basketball players, dancers, gymnasts, or anyone who participates in activities with repetitive pounding or stress on the legs. People with shin splints typically experience discomfort along the inner edge of the shinbone, where the muscles attach. The pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp, stabbing sensation during physical activity, although it might subside when at rest. Proper warm-up, appropriate footwear, gradual training progression, and adequate rest are crucial in preventing and managing shin splints.

How do shin splints affect the lower leg bones? 

Imagine the lower legs as pillars supporting a bridge. During activities like running, stomping, or jumping frequently, the bones in the lower legs undergo repeated stress without a period of rest or variation in movement to give other bones a turn to share the load. This would be similar to a crane dropping a car onto one section of a bridge over and over for hours. After a while, the bridge pillar directly beneath the car may begin to crack. Although the bridge is built to support the weight of the car, the load is meant to be shared by the other supporting pillars under the bridge as the car drives across. 

How do shin splints affect the lower leg muscles? 

In the body, repeated stress on the lower leg can lead to tiny tears in the muscles and stress where they connect to the bones. Similar to how a strand of yard might become frayed if it is repeatedly stretched or twisted. This can cause the area around the shinbone to hurt and become a bit swollen. The body does this to signal that the muscles and bones need a break from the hard work. 

How to prevent shin splints

Preventing shin splints involves two major habits: adequate rest and proper stretching. Adequate rest means giving the bones and connective tissues enough downtime in between activities to recover from the last activity. For example, if an athlete is still experiencing soreness or limited range of motion from the last practice, they may not have fully recovered and could run the risk of developing shin splints if they continue to exercise as usual. Proper stretching before high-impact activities can also prevent shin splints, as it prepares the muscles and connective tissue to undergo temporary stress. 

In addition to proper rest and stretching, athletes should be aware of the cues their body may give as warning signs before developing shin splints. Any pain in the lower leg -- particularly in the front of the leg surrounding the shinbone-- should be taken seriously and treated as a cue to slow down or ease up. Likewise, any pain or soreness that persists after the normal recovery window should be treated as a warning sign that something may not be right. Athletes can also reduce their risk for shin splints by working with a coach or personal trainer to ensure that they are using proper form.

If you or your child are experiencing pain in the lower leg, give us a call! Our team has seen hundreds of cases of shin splints and can help resolve pain to get you back into your favorite activities

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