man on workYour shins are comprised of muscles, tendons, and bone, all of which work together to enable you to run, jump, walk, and support your body’s weight. Unfortunately, the tendons and bone tissue that make up your shins are also susceptible to developing shin splints and other overuse injuries.

You may have had a friend tell you that they have shin splints, or you may have experienced shin pain that has interrupted your own activities. But what are the causes of shin splints? How can you find relief for shin pain? What can you do to prevent shin splints in the first place?

At South Texas Podiatrist, Dr. Davis and his team of experienced podiatrists in San Antonio have years of experience diagnosing and treating shin splints. We can provide you with the answers you need to get back on your feet and continue your life pain-free.

Here's a closer look at shin splints, along with treatment options and preventative measures you can take to protect your shins from pain:

What Are Shin Splints?

A shin splint is a term used to describe pain that develops along the shinbone (tibia) due to overuse or stress on the connective tissues surrounding the bone. Shin splints most commonly affect runners, dancers, and other athletes who put repetitive stress on their lower legs. However, anyone can develop shin splints, even if you don't participate in high-impact activities.

There are two primary types of shin splints:

  • Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS): MTSS, which is the most common type of shin splint, is marked by pain along the inside of the shinbone. 
  • Anterior compartment syndrome: Anterior compartment syndrome is less common and is characterized by pain along the front of the shinbone.

In serious cases, tiny cracks can form in the shin bone due to the repetitive stress of shin splints. This is called a stress fracture, and it can be extremely painful. If you suspect you have a stress fracture, it's important to seek medical attention right away.

What Causes Shin Splints?

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of shin splints, including:

  • Overpronation: Overpronation is a condition in which your feet roll inward too much when you walk or run. This puts added stress on the muscles and connective tissues in your shins.
  • Poor footwear: Wearing shoes that don't provide adequate support can also contribute to shin splints. This is especially true for runners who don't wear proper running shoes.
  • Weakness in the muscles: If the muscles in your shins are weak, they're more likely to develop shin splints.
  • Poor flexibility: Lack of flexibility in the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the shinbone can also lead to shin splints.
  • Uneven surfaces: Running or walking on uneven surfaces can put additional strain on your shins.
  • Intense exercise: If you suddenly increase the intensity of your workout routine, you may be more likely to develop shin splints as a type of exercise pain.

Shin splints can also be caused by an underlying medical condition such as arthritis, diabetes, or obesity. If you have any of these conditions, it's important to let your doctor know so they can take them into account when they diagnose shin splints.

What Are the Symptoms of Shin Splints?

The most common symptom of shin splints is lower leg pain along the shinbone. The pain of shin splints is usually described as a dull ache at first, but sharp, severe pain can set in with continued activity. You may also notice swelling or tenderness in the affected area.

You may notice that shin splints cause shin pain when you:

  • Walk
  • Run
  • Stand for long periods of time
  • Climb stairs
  • Do impact activities such as jumping

The pain of shin splints may worsen with continued activity. You may also notice that the pain is worse in the morning or after sitting for a long period of time. This is because when you're inactive, the muscles and connective tissues in your shins can tighten and become even more irritated.

Who is At Risk for Shin Splints?

Anyone can develop shin splints, but there are certain factors that can increase your risk. These risk factors include:

  • Being a runner or dancer: The repetitive impact of these activities can put strain on the muscles and connective tissues in your shins.
  • Having flat feet or high arches: This can lead to overpronation, which puts additional stress on your shins.
  • Being a woman: Women are more likely to develop shin splints than men, possibly because they tend to have narrower feet, which can lead to overpronation.
  • Being overweight: Carrying extra weight can also contribute to shin splints.

How Are Shin Splints Treated?

When it comes to shin splints, treatment will vary depending on the severity of your condition. In most cases, however, rest is the best medicine. This means taking a break from any activities that may be causing or aggravating your shin pain.

If your shin splints are caused by overpronation, your doctor may recommend wearing a custom orthotic or supportive shoe inserts. These devices can help correct your foot position and take the strain off of your shins.

You may also need to ice your shins with cold packs or take over-the-counter pain relievers to ease pain and reduce inflammation of the muscles.

In some cases, physical therapy may be recommended to help stretch and strengthen the muscles in your shins. A physical therapist can also teach you exercises to help prevent shin splints from recurring.

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you're experiencing shin pain that lasts for more than a week or is severe enough to interfere with your daily activities, you should see a doctor. This is especially important if you're experiencing pain at night or have any medical conditions that may be contributing to your shin splints.

Your doctor will likely ask about your symptoms and how they've been affecting your life. They may also perform a physical exam and order imaging tests such as X-rays or an MRI to rule out other conditions that may be causing your pain.

Once a diagnosis of shin splints is confirmed, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan. Custom orthotics with arch supports or shock-absorbing insoles may be recommended if overpronation is a contributing factor.

Surgery is rarely needed for shin splints, but in severe cases, a procedure called fasciotomy may be performed to release the pressure on the affected muscles and connective tissues.

Preventing Shin Splints

There are several things you can do to help prevent shin splints from occurring or coming back. These include:

  • Wear supportive shoes: Make sure your shoes fit well and provide good support for your feet. If you have flat feet, consider wearing custom orthotics or shoe inserts with rigid arches. If you have high arches, look for shoes with good cushioning.
  • Stretch: Be sure to warm up and stretch properly before participating in any impact activities.
  • Cross-train: Avoid overuse injuries by alternating between your typical exercises and a new exercise routine. For example, if you're a runner, try swimming or cycling on days when you're not running.
  • Change terrain: Stop exercising on hard surfaces like concrete and switch to a softer surface such as a track or grass field.
  • Build up slowly: When starting a new exercise routine, gradually increase your mileage or time to allow your body to adjust.
  • Rest: Take breaks when you need them. If you're feeling pain in your shins, take a few days off from exercise to let your body recover.

Shin splints can be painful, but with the proper treatment and preventive measures, they don't have to sideline you from your favorite activities. If you're experiencing shin pain, talk to your doctor to determine the best course of action.

Visit the Best Podiatrist in San Antonio

Shin splints are a common condition that can cause pain and discomfort in the lower legs. However, with proper treatment from a podiatrist and physical therapist, they can usually be effectively managed. If you're experiencing shin pain, talk to your doctor to have your shin splints diagnosed and determine the best course of treatment for you.

At South Texas Podiatrist, we provide comprehensive care for all types of foot and ankle conditions, including shin splints. Our team of experienced podiatrists will work with you to create a treatment plan that fits your needs and lifestyle.

If you're ready to get back on your feet and start living pain-free, schedule your first appointment with us today.