Shin splints. If you’ve had them, you know the distinct burn — but you may not know that this common injury can lead to more serious problems. Here’s why they require treatment when the pain first starts.
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“There’s a cumulative effect with shin splints,” says sports injury expert Anne Rex, DO, FAOSM.
“When you don’t allow enough time to recover from these micro-injuries, it can go from affecting the lining of the bone to causing stress fractures in the bone itself. You could end up on crutches or in a walking boot.”
How shin splints happen
Shin splints, also referred to as tibial stress syndrome or periostitis, occur when the muscles and bone tissue around your tibia (shin bone) become inflamed from too much stress and repetitive activities.
This causes soreness and pain along the shin where the muscles connect with the tibia.
Left untreated, these injuries can begin to affect the shin bone, creating inflammation and even small cracks that can develop into more serious stress fractures.
Activities that can cause shin splints
Many people associate shin splints with running, but Dr. Rex cautions that they can happen to “anyone, and with any activity that accelerates too quickly.”
Running can cause these injuries, but they’re also common in dancers, walkers and military personnel in training.
Those who have flat feet or high arches are more prone to shin splints. They also can occur if you don’t warm up before an activity, or if your leg or core muscles are weak.
Tips to avoid shin splints
To help avoid shin splints, Dr. Rex says:
- Ramp up slowly. Increase your workout no more than 10 percent in volume, intensity or duration during the week, even if you’re in shape.
- Strengthen leg and core muscles. Do exercises designed to strengthen these specific areas.
- Wear the right shoes. Footwear is important; wear the correct type of shoe for the activity and replace your exercise shoes regularly, every 300 miles.
- Stretch regularly. Include a warm-up and cool down to your exercise routine.
How to address shin splints
If you do develop shin splints, you can treat them at home initially. Use this tried-and-true method: Rest from aggravating activities, especially higher impact exercises like running and jumping. Also, reduce any inflammation with ice, and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain.
Depending on your pain level, you may still be able to continue exercising by switching to lower impact activities, such as swimming or biking. If you try this, be sure you are pain-free during these activities.
If the pain doesn’t go away after home treatment, you should see your doctor.
When it comes to shin splints, do what you can to avoid them, don’t ignore the early signs, and treat them quickly if you get them. What seems like a minor issue at first can turn into a sports injury that requires medical attention and keeps you from working out.
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