Shin Splints

What is a shin splint?

A shin splint is the tearing of the lining of the bone away from the bone. Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, a shin splint is basically the pain you experience along the shinbone of your lower leg. It occurs between the knee and ankle joints.

What are the symptoms of a shin splint?

The inner part of the calf is tender, painful or swollen.

What causes a shin splint?

Excessive use of the shin can cause tearing, which results in swelling and/or pain. Shin splints are common among athletes in sports with abrupt starts and stops, such as basketball and tennis. Running, especially on uneven surfaces or for extended periods, also can cause shin splints. New runners often suffer shin splints because they over-tax their shin muscles by running too hard or for too long. Running in worn-out footwear can also cause shin splints. For this reason, the foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush recommend runners replace their shoes every 500 miles.

How is a shin splint diagnosed?

The foot and ankle doctors at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush examine the patient's leg and discuss patient medical history and daily activities. In almost all cases, a patient receives an X-ray, CT scan or MRI so the physician can rule out a fracture.

What are the treatments for a shin splint?

Non-surgical Treatment Options

Most shin splints can be resolved with these non-invasive steps:

  • Switch from high-impact to low-impact exercise
  • Wear supportive shoes. Consider buying arch supports for added cushioning.
  • Rest and elevate the shin above the level of the heart
  • Use a compression bandage to control swelling
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers

Surgical Treatment Options

If the shin splint involves pressure on the nerves and muscles, the foot and ankle physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush may perform surgery to release the pressure. A patient will most likely need surgery when compartment syndrome kicks in. Compartment syndrome occurs when the nerves or blood vessels in the shins are compressed because of inflammation. Without proper treatment, the nerve endings can become damaged and lead to weakness of the muscles. Compression can be relieved by a surgical procedure in which the foot and ankle physician removes the affected fascia are cut or removed from the leg.