Shin pain is pain on the front of your lower leg between your knee and ankle. It can hurt directly over your shinbone (tibia) or over the muscles that are on either side of the shinbone.
What is the cause?
Shin pain is most often caused by overuse of the muscles or other tissues that attach to the inner side of your shinbone. The muscle and tissues get irritated and swollen during exercise or other activities. This type of injury is most common in runners who too quickly increase how far or how hard they run, or who change the surface they run on.
Examples of some conditions that can cause shin pain are:
Over-pronation, which is having feet that flatten out more than normal when they strike the ground as you walk or run
Stress fracture, which is a small crack in the bone
Medial stress syndrome, which is an irritation of the muscles on the inner side of your shinbone
Compartment syndrome, which is painful swelling of muscle and other tissue inside enclosed spaces in your leg called compartments
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
Pain over the front part of your lower leg
Weak, numb, or cold feet when you exercise if you have compartment syndrome
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history and examine you. Often you will not need any tests. If your provider thinks that a fracture or compartment syndrome is causing your pain, tests may include:
MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the lower leg
Bone scan, which uses a radioactive chemical to look at your bones
Needle test for compartment syndrome, which uses a needle attached to a device that measures the pressure in your tissues while you are resting and after you exercise
How is it treated?
You will need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain. Your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises and other types of physical therapy to help you heal.
Special shoes or shoe inserts may help. Your healthcare provider may recommend arch supports called orthotics. You can buy orthotics at a store or they can be custom made. Arch supports help correct over-pronation.
You may need surgery if you have compartment syndrome or some types of stress fractures.
How can I take care of myself?
To keep swelling down and help relieve pain:
Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on your shin every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Do ice massage. To do this, freeze water in a Styrofoam cup and then peel the top of the cup away to expose the ice. Hold the bottom of the cup and rub the ice over the painful area for 5 to 10 minutes. Do this several times a day while you have pain.
Keep your leg up on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
Take nonprescription pain medicine. Read the label and take as directed.
Donâ€™t keep running while you have shin pain or it will take longer for the pain to go away.
Do a type of physical activity that does not put stress on the injured tissue, like swimming. This will allow you to keep exercising while your injury heals.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions, including any exercises recommended by your provider. Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
How can I help prevent shin pain?
Since shin pain usually happens from overuse, be sure to start your activities gradually.
Wear shoes with proper padding and support.
Run on softer surfaces.
Before exercise, warm up properly and stretch the muscles in the front of your leg and in your calf.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-05-01 Last reviewed: 2014-03-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Shin Pain (Shin Splints): References
Clinical Orthopaedic Rehabilitation An Evidence-Based Approach, Third Edition, Brotzman SB, Manske, RC, Elsevier, 2011.
Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care 4, Sarwark, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons 2010.
Sports Medicine Consult, Busconi BD, Stevenson JH, Lippincott 2009.