Shin splints or medial tibial stress syndrome is described by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons as an inflammation of the muscles, tendons and bone tissue surrounding the tibia. It is typically an overuse injury involving running or jumping. The main symptom is pain that runs along the tibia or shin bone. The place of pain may vary from injury to injury and can be directly on the bone or along the edges of the bone. The pain typically occurs in the middle third of the shin bone, but can be higher or lower. The pain usually worsens over time and there is no one incident that started it. The pain can vary from annoying to debilitating. Shin splints more commonly occur when starting new exercise programs or with an increase in intensity such as more distance in running or an increase in force such as running at a faster pace. Other causes can be tight calves or poor ankle mobility, pronation of feet or poor/fallen arches and worn out running shoes.
As with any sports related injury, it is a good idea to seek the opinion of a physician to get a proper diagnosis. Shin splints can have similar symptoms to other injuries such as a stress fracture or tendinitis, so proper diagnosis is key. So, when diagnosed with shin splints, what can you do to recover quickly? Rest and ice are typically the first step, but many athletes don’t like to rest, so modify your training to limit the impact. Decreasing the speed and/or total mileage while running or switching to lower impact cardio such as the bike, elliptical or swimming are other alternatives. Improving flexibility and mobility in the ankle by stretching the calf muscles with the knee straight as well as bent can be beneficial during the recovery process. Since shin splints are an overuse injury that develops over time, don’t expect the pain to go away quickly as recovery will be more gradual. This injury can be debilitating, but if diagnosed and treated early on, the athlete can return quickly with minimal modifications.
Chris Phillips is an Athletic Trainer, Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Sports Safety Specialist with over 20 years experience in professional sports. Chris is the owner of Compete Sports Performance and Rehab located in Orange County, California.