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Shin Splints

Alternate Names

  • tibial tendinitis
  • Shin

Definition

Shin splints is a term used to describe pain in the front of the lower leg, between the knee and the ankle.

What is going on in the body?

The term shin splints refers to the pain in the lower leg. This pain can be caused by a number of factors, including the following:
  • a stress fracture, which is a small break in one of the lower leg bones
  • tendonitis, or inflammation of one of the tendons that connects bone to muscle
  • swelling of the muscle of the lower leg, inside its tissue sheath (known as compartment syndrome)

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Shin splints are generally caused by some form of vigorous athletic activity, such as overtraining during an exercise program. When the person exercises frequently without proper conditioning, the lower leg is unable to withstand the chronic stress. People who do sprinting or long-distance running are at risk for shin splints.
Activities that involve sudden starts, stops, and jumps also increase the risk for shin splints. These include:
  • basketball
  • gymnastics
  • high-impact aerobics
  • soccer
  • tennis
  • volleyball

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Following are some measures to prevent shin splints.
  • Avoid hard surfaces, such as asphalt and concrete.
  • Condition properly to slowly build up strength in an exercise program.
  • Wear proper shoes for the activity being performed.
  • Warm up and stretch before starting vigorous exercise.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Diagnosis of shin splints begins with a medical history and physical exam. The healthcare professional may order X-rays or a bone scan to detect stress fractures.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Most of the time, shin splints cause only mild, temporary pain. Occasionally, the individual may have a permanent disabling injury.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Shin splints are not contagious and pose no risk to others.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment of shin splints should start with decreasing daily activity levels. If a stress fracture is found, the person must stop impact exercise such as running, for one to two months.
Other helpful measures are as follows:
  • supportive shoes appropriate for the activity
  • foot orthoses, which are prescription shoe inserts, to make sure the foot strikes the ground correctly
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also called NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin), naproxen (i.e., Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn), or ketoprofen (i.e., Oruvail)
  • physical therapy
  • RICE, an acrostic for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation of the lower leg

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

NSAIDs may cause stomach upset or allergic reactions.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

After treatment, the individual should continue to follow preventive measures to avoid a recurrence of the shin splints.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

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