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​Avoiding shin splints

​​​​​​​​Too much stress placed on a body part can cause an overuse injury to happen. When this happens, you may have pain and swelling, muscle strain or tissue damage. In sports with considerable running, such as track and field, basketball and soccer, shin splints are a common overuse injury.

Shin splints usually refer to pain and swelling of the tendons attaching your shin muscles to the shinbone or tibia. Shin splints happen when muscles become inflamed on the inside of the tibia, which control your foot movement when running, or the tibia lining. It is a warning sign the muscles are unable to handle the stress being placed on them.

Shin splints can occur when:

  • A structural imbalance or irregularity affecting foot placement is present. Usually overpronation or flat feet can make you more likely to suffer from shin splints.
  • Too many miles are logged on hard surfaces.
  • Abrupt changes in the running surface take place, such as going from an indoor to an outdoor track or from grass or dirt cross-country courses to an indoor or outdoor track.
  • Abrupt changes in your training routine occur, from running on flat surfaces to running up and down hills to improve performance.

Overuse can stress the muscles around the tibia, making them feel tired and worn out. This causes more foot motion and more stress on the muscles, leading to painful inflammation. Wearing spikes during training and competition can add to the pain.

If shin splints are suspected, talk with your doctor. What appears as shin splints may be a tibia stress fracture.

Treatment for shin splints often includes:

  • Rest, ice, compression and elevation (R.I.C.E.)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen
  • Ice, applied as soon as the workout is over
  • Heating pads, to warm and loosen up muscles before training can be helpful
  • Training changes such as less running, rest and cross-training

You can help prevent shin splints before they occur:​

​​​Share comments or questions on this information email: sports.medicine@marshfieldclinic.org​.

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