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Shin Splints

(Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, MTSS; Medial Distal Tibial Syndrome, MDTS; Medial Tibial Syndrome; Stress-Related Anterior Lower Leg Pain; Spike Soreness)

How to Say It: me-d-ul tib-e-ul stress sin-drom

Definition

Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) is shin pain from overuse or repetitive stress.

Muscle and Bones of Lower Leg
lower leg compartment

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Causes

MTSS happens when muscles and tendons over the shin become irritated and inflamed. It is caused by a sudden increase in activity levels.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in people who do repetitive, high-impact activities, such as:

  • Running
  • Basketball
  • Dancing
  • Gymnastics
  • Military training

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Increasing activity levels too quickly
  • Flat feet or stiff arches
  • Poor footwear

Symptoms

The main problem is sharp or dull pain along the shinbone. Other problems may be:

  • Swelling
  • Pain during and after activity
  • Pain when touching the shin

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the shin. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Images of the shin may be taken to check for other problems. This can be done with:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and promote healing. Rest will be needed for several weeks. Other choices are:

  • Supportive care, such as cold packs, bandages, and elevating the leg
  • Medicines to ease pain and swelling
  • Supportive shoes, a brace, or a walking boot to take pressure off the shin as it heals
  • Physical therapy to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the lower leg

People who do not get better with these methods may need surgery. This is not common.

Prevention

The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Slowly increasing physical activities
  • Wearing proper footwear for sports and activities
RESOURCES:

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

Sports Med—The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://whenithurtstomove.org

REFERENCES:

Robertson GA, Wood AM. Lower limb stress fractures in sport: Optimising their management and outcome. World J Orthop 2017 Mar 18;8(3):242.

Shin pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/shin-pain. Accessed February 18, 2021.

Shin splints. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/shin-splints. Accessed February 18, 2021.

Shin splints. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/sports-injury/shin-splints. Accessed February 18, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT  Last Updated: 4/2/2021