Recognizing and Treating Shin Splints

One of the most common injuries experienced by runners are shin splints. This condition is also known as soleus syndrome and tibial periostitis. The actual medical term for the injury is “medial tibial stress syndrome.” This injury occurs when too much stress is placed on the medial section of the tibia (shin bone).

The excessive stress is usually triggered when a runner abruptly change their training routine by jumping into a high-intensity training regimen without the proper build-up. This places the tibia under stresses that it is not accustomed to and the bone attempts to adapt. But because the bone does not have enough time to adapt, shin splints develop.

Runners with suspected shin splints should seek an evaluation by a sports medicine professional to rule out other diagnoses such as a stress fracture, posterior tibial tendon disease, and exercise­induced exertional compartment syndrome. The diagnosis is typically made by physical examination, with tenderness along the inside area of the leg. Plain X­-rays usually do not show any changes. Advanced imaging, such as bone scan and MRI can sometimes be performed and help confirm the diagnosis, but is usually not necessary.

The mainstay of treatment is rest (or a change in training, such as cross training) to allow the tibial bone to heal. Other treatments that may help include:

  • Non­steroidal anti­inflammatory drugs
  • Ice
  • Neoprene sleeves
  • Orthotics (specifically those with arch support)

However, there is no clear evidence that any of these have significant benefit besides rest. To help avoid shin splints, runners should be vigilant in allowing adequate time to increase training demands, as well as run in a properly­fitted, well­cushioned running shoe. So, keep on running and don’t let your shins slow you down.