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What Are Shin Splints?

Shin splints are pain on the inner part of the shinbone. They're usually brought on by running or another high-impact activity.

Shin splints, also called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), get better with rest and don’t cause lasting problems.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Shin Splints?

People with shin splints have pain along the inner edge of the shinbone. The pain usually happens during activity and may last for a while afterward.

Shin splints also can lead to swelling and tenderness of the shinbone.

What Causes Shin Splints?

The pain of shin splints is caused by irritation and swelling of the muscles, tendons, and bones in the lower leg.

Shin splints are an overuse injury. They also can happen if a person makes a sudden change in an exercise routine, such as exercising more often, making the workouts more intense, introducing hills too quickly, or a change in running surface.

Who Gets Shin Splints?

Shin splints tend to happen in people who do high-impact activities or ones with frequent stops and starts, such as running, jumping, basketball, football, soccer, and dancing.

Some things make it more likely that someone will get shin splints, such as:

  • having flat feet
  • exercising while wearing worn-out athletic shoes
  • being overweight
  • having hips and ankles that are not flexible
  • poor form while running, such as taking too long a stride and/or a big heel strike

How Are Shin Splints Diagnosed?

To diagnose shin splints, health care providers:

  • ask about symptoms
  • do an exam, paying special attention to the lower leg

Usually no testing is needed to diagnose shin splints, but X-rays may be done to rule out stress fractures and other potential causes of leg pain.

How Are Shin Splints Treated?

People with shin splints need to cut down or avoid all activities that cause pain. Walking and non-weight bearing exercises (like swimming or riding a bike) usually do not cause pain and can be continued.

To help someone with shin splints, the health care provider may recommend:

  • Putting ice or a cold pack on the shin every 1–2 hours for 15 minutes at a time. (Put a thin towel over the skin to protect it from the cold.)
  • Giving medicine for pain such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or store brand) or acetaminophen (Tylenol or store brand). Follow the directions that come with the medicine for how much to give and how often to give it.
  • Exercises to stretch and strengthen the foot/leg muscles and tendons. 
  • Using an elastic wrap or compression stocking to help with pain and swelling.
  • Wearing better footwear with arch support.
  • Improving their running form/gait.

Can People With Shin Splints Play Sports?

Someone with shin splints:

  • can do any sport that doesn't cause pain
  • should stop doing any activity that causes pain
  • can slowly return to sports after being pain-free for 2 weeks

Depending on how severe the symptoms are, it can take up to 4–6 weeks of rest before a child or teen can return to sports.

What Else Should I Know?

Shin splints usually get completely better with rest. Kids and teens can help prevent shin splints from coming back by:

  • wearing shock-absorbing athletic shoes with arch support
  • replacing athletic shoes that don't fit well or are worn out
  • increasing any exercise routine slowly
  • working with a trainer or coach to make sure they train safely
  • cross-training by doing different kinds of exercises on different days
Medically reviewed by: Sarah R. Gibson, MD
Date reviewed: June 2020