Shin splints, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, are a common exercise-related condition, characterized by pain along or just behind the shins. Pain and mild swelling occur in the lower part of the leg, just below the knee, and these symptoms tend to worsen with activity. This discomfort results from inflammation of the thin layer of tissue covering the tibia, as well as from the bone itself and the muscles that attach to it. The muscles, tendons and bone tissue commonly become become inflamed and overworked by increased activity. Shin splints are often the result of increased physical activity, and runners, aerobic dancers and military personnel are prone to shin splints because of the continuous stress placed on their lower legs. Individuals with flat feet or rigid arches may also be at risk for developing shin splints.
Treatment for shin splints commonly includes rest, applying ice to the affected area and anti-inflammatory medication. Patients may work with a physical therapist and initial treatment may include applying moist heat and massage to control pain and swelling. A physical therapist may also evaluate the patient’s current walking or running style and make suggestions about ways to avoid overuse or excessive stress while exercising.
Taping the arch of the foot may help to support the tissue and ease pain. Individuals with shin splints may also be encouraged to use shock-absorbing shoe insoles and individuals with flat arches may benefit from shoe inserts, or orthotics, to support the arch of the foot. Surgery to repair shin splints is very rare and not always effective.