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Shin splints

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Last updated November 17, 2021

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What are shin splints?

Shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome) are small "hairline" repetitive stress fractures, often from overuse. The pain, felt in the front part of the lower leg, is from the swelling (inflammation) of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around your shin.

Shin splints most often develop in people who perform high-impact sports (such as running, tennis, and basketball). The constant pounding on a hard surface damages the shin. This injury is also more common in active, athletic young people who exercise without stretching beforehand.

Symptoms

Symptoms include pain on the front of the shin, swelling, and redness.

  • Dull, achy shin pain
  • Pain in the inside of the shin

Treatment

You can treat shin splints yourself. Treatment for shin splints includes RICE therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and using a shoe insert to help absorb impact. You can also help prevent shin splints by stretching before exercising.

If the pain does not go away, see your doctor who may take an X-ray to rule out a stress fracture.

R​​ICE  stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

  • Rest is very important to allow the injured tissue to recover. Do not do any exercise for several days.
  • Ice the shin area as much as possible for 24 hours to help reduce inflammation and pain. If you do not have an ice pack, put ice in a plastic bag and wrap it with a thin towel or use a bag of frozen vegetables.
  • Compression of the area with an elastic bandage helps reduce swelling, but do not wrap the bandage too tightly.
  • Elevation of the foot area for the first 24 hours, including during sleep, helps reduce swelling.
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