Injury Tip Sheet: Shin Splints

Bryan Christie

Bryan Christie

Injury Tip Sheet: Shin Splints

Learn what you need to know to help treat and prevent this common leg injury

Kathy Weber, M.D., M.S.
Daphne R. Scott, PT, Dsc
Chicago, IL

Fast facts

  • Occurs in athletes of all ages
  • The majority of shin splints are caused by improper training
  • The shinbone (tibia) supports more than 80% of the body’s weight
  • Cause over 10% of all running injuries

What you need to know

What are shin splints?

  • Pain and soreness along the shinbone (tibia) due to stress caused from excessive running or overtraining.
  • Shin splints are considered an ‘overuse injury’ and result from inflammation in the tendons adjacent to the tibia


Signs & symptoms

  • Tenderness, soreness, or pain in the lower leg, typically on the outside aspect of the shin bone  at the onset of exercise, which can reduce as the workout wears on
  • Mild swelling along the tibia



When should I see a doctor or other professional?

  • If you have localized pain, pain that is initially relieved with rest but now persisting with rest, pain with activities of daily living (walking), night pain you may have a stress fracture and not shin splints. Stress fractures are small hairline breaks in the bone and will not heal with simple icing and/or anti-inflammatory treatments
  • If you continue to exercise with a stress fracture eventually the stress fracture will go onto fracture requiring surgery



  • Shin splints are caused by an overload of stress on the shinbone itself and the connective tissues surrounding the bone.  This overload can be caused by specific activities such as running downhill or running in shoes with inadequate support
  • Shin splints often occur due to overtraining, or a sudden increase in the intensity of a workout
  • Shin splints can also be caused by overpronation, causing additional stress on the tendons in your foot and calf


Risk factors

  • Shin splints are most common among runners, especially those just beginning running or an extensive training program, such as for a marathon.
  • Running in worn out shoes will cause additional stress on your arches, which can contribute to shin splints
  • Inadequate stretching will put additional strain and demand on the muscles


What you can do


  • Adequate stretching prior to and after workouts, especially long training runs, are an important part of preventing shin splints
  • Additionally, make sure that you do not increase your mileage too quickly and ensure that your footwear has appropriate arch support
  • Athletes should incorporate lower extremity strengthening such as hip, gluteus, and calf raises to help stabilize their lower leg muscles


Recommendations for treatment and rehab

  • At the onset of shin splints it is important to ensure you have appropriate foot support and incorporate stretching into your training
  • In order to reduce the swelling that is sometimes associated with shin splints, you can ice the area after workouts.  A combination of icing every twenty minutes and, if appropriate, taking an anti-inflammatory medication will help relieve the inflammation and pain associated with shin splints
  • Active rest is an important part of any overuse injury
  • Your doctor may also refer you to a Physical Therapist to address biomechanical deficits contributing to your shin splints


What can I do to stay active?

  • Many runners use this rest time to cross train, incorporating swimming or cycling and avoiding weight bearing exercises
  • Minimizing any exercise that increases or reproduces your pain will allow for a more expedient recovery

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  1. andy 8 years ago

    Great article, thanks for sharing! When someone has splin splints, how long does it usually take to fully recover when fully rested (not running) or does it depend on the severity?

  2. andy 8 years ago

    Great article, thanks for sharing! When someone has splin splints, how long does it usually take to fully recover when fully rested (not running) or does it depend on the severity?

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