A shin splint, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is an inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and tissue around the bone in your lower leg, the tibia. You generally experience pain along the inner border of the tibia, where the muscles attach to the bone.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic in Capitola, California, osteopathic physician Dr. Richard Bernstein and his staff see all manner of sports injuries, including shin splints. They often get asked if a shin splint will heal on its own. Here’s their response.
All about shin splints
Shin splints are a repetitive stress injury. They develop when the leg’s muscle and bone tissue become overworked from repetitive motion.
They can also develop after sudden changes in physical activity, such as increasing the number of days you exercise, increasing the intensity of your workouts, and failing to warm up properly.
Other factors contributing to shin splint development include having flat feet, extremely rigid arches, exercising with improper footwear, or shoes that have lost their arch and heel support. The people at the highest risk for developing this painful condition are long-distance runners, dancers, and new military recruits.
If you have shin splints, you can experience tenderness, soreness, or pain along the inner side of the tibia, as well as mild swelling in your lower leg. At first, the pain might diminish or disappear when you stop exercising, but with further stress, the pain may become continuous and progress to a stress fracture — a small crack in the tibia also caused by overuse.
Dr. Bernstein uses imaging tests to determine the exact cause of your shin pain. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can reveal the presence of a stress fracture or tendonitis — a condition where the tendons become inflamed or sustain partial tears. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis to receive appropriate treatment.
Does a shin splint heal on its own?
A shin splint can heal on its own if you give your body the proper rest and at-home treatment. Try the following modalities:
- Rest: give yourself a few weeks off from your exercise regimen; substitute lower-impact aerobic activity, such as swimming, a stationary bike, or an elliptical
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories: ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen reduce pain and swelling.
- Ice: cold packs wrapped in a towel several times a day for 20 minutes
- Compression bandage: prevents additional swelling
- Flexibility exercises: stretch your lower leg muscles
- Supportive shoes: should have good arch and heel support; replace when worn out
- Orthotics: shoe inserts align and stabilize your foot and ankle, taking stress off the lower leg
Before you get back to your exercise routine, you should be pain-free for at least two weeks. When you do return, you need to start at a lower intensity to prevent the shin splints from reoccurring. Gradually build up your intensity and duration to keep the stress off your shins.
Dr. Bernstein also offers in-office treatments that may help you heal faster. Osteopathic manual medicine is a hands-on therapy that uses stretching, mild pressure, and resistance to relieve musculoskeletal pain while improving your flexibility, strength, and range of motion.
Regenerative medicine uses stem cells to regenerate inflamed or torn tendons, ligaments, muscles, and other tissues.
Class IV laser therapy uses a multi-wave system that relieves inflammation, alleviates swelling, and reduces pain simultaneously.
If you’re dealing with painful shin splints that aren’t healing with rest and at-home treatments, it’s time to come into Santa Cruz Osteopathic for an evaluation with Dr. Bernstein. Give us a call at 831-464-1605, or book online with us today.