What Are Shin Splints?
Aching pain along the front of your lower leg is the telltale sign of shin splints. We explain the causes of this common injury.
Warm spring temperatures are luring runners back out to favorite running trails. If you sprint back into your running routine too quickly, a throbbing ache in your shins may dampen your enthusiasm. Painful shins may be a symptom of shin splints. Although many recognize the signs of this common injury, you may not realize that without prompt treatment, shin splints can have serious consequences.
The burning pain of shin splints is triggered as overused muscles attached to the tibia—and the lining of the bone itself—become irritated and inflamed. Small tears may develop in the calf muscles, and the tissue lining the shinbone can also become irritated. Without treatment, this damage can have cumulative effects. Inflammation can lead to small cracks in the tibia and the development of stress fractures over time.
Shin splints are common among runners, but this injury can be caused by any activity requiring repetitive pounding on a hard surface—especially when activity is accelerated more quickly than our body can adapt. Shin splint injury affects runners, dancers, basketball and tennis athletes, and others involved in intense activities that require running, jumping, and sudden stops. But overuse is not the only culprit. All of the following factors can contribute to the development of this condition:
- Training errors. Usually, shin splints are the result of ramping up too quickly in a high-intensity activity, without allowing enough time to recover between activity sessions.
- Unfamiliar surfaces. Running on a new, hard, or uneven surface can cause shin splints.
- Stress fractures. These tiny breaks in the lower leg bones are usually the result of extended periods of overuse without adequate rest.
- Flatfeet or high arches. People with flatfeet or high arches are particularly prone to shin splints.
- Weak hip and core muscles. When muscles aren’t strong enough to stabilize the body during strenuous exercise, lower leg bones are more vulnerable to impact injuries.
- Inappropriate footwear. Wearing the wrong shoes for your activity or wearing old shoes that no longer support you properly can also contribute to shin splints.
You can avoid shin splints entirely by ramping up intense activity gradually. If you do experience the painful warning signs of shin split injury, don’t ignore them. The damage caused by shin splints is cumulative, and early treatment can resolve tissue soreness before it develops into a more serious stress fracture. Pain is a signal to discontinue the activities that cause you discomfort until your body recovers. With adequate rest, shin splints will frequently heal on their own. If pain does not go away, the sports medicine specialists at Summit Orthopedics can evaluate your injury and develop a treatment plan to start you on the road to recovery.
Sports medicine: Expert bone, joint, and muscle care
From Olympians to pro athletes to youth sports and those that just want to be more active – Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.