While many people experience MTSS when exercising, it can be prevented with stretching and treated with rest.

Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is the medical name for shin splints. Although the condition isn’t usually serious, it can be painful and affect athletes’ and active people’s training and exercise routines.

The condition is characterized by pain that’s localized to the front lower leg. Usually, the pain is specifically between the knee and ankle.

For most people, at-home remedies are more than sufficient to heal the injury and get back into their regular routines. Still, knowing what to expect and when to consider medical interventions can help people make a proactive decision that speeds up recovery.

For most people, excessive force on the shin bone, as well as surrounding tissues and muscles attached to it, is the primary cause of MTSS. This force causes swelling, which increases the pressure on the bone, resulting in inflammation and pain.

Another cause of shin splints is bone fractures. A fracture is a small crack in the bone structure. Most minor fractures can heal with rest. But for people who continue to engage in strenuous activities, the fractures can progress and worsen because of increased pressure on the injury.

Although anyone can experience shin splints, some people are more likely to develop them, including:

  • athletes and dancers who engage in more serious physical activity
  • people with flat feet
  • muscle weakness in the upper legs
  • runners
  • females

The hallmark symptom of MTSS is pain. In particular, the pain caused by shin splints tends to run along the tibia. Likewise, a person might also experience swelling at the injury site.

The intensity of the pain can vary, however. While some people might experience sharp discomfort, others may have dull or throbbing sensations.

Often, the pain starts during or shortly after exercising or doing physical activity. Sometimes, touching specific spots on the lower leg may make the pain worse. Pain can be either localized or widespread throughout the tibia bone.

For most people, at-home treatment is sufficient to treat MTSS, with the most common solution being the RICE method. RICE stands for:

  • Rest: Shin splints are closely linked with overuse. Pausing strenuous activities will give the body time to heal. Alternatively, switching to low impact activities can allow people to maintain an active lifestyle without risking injury progression.
  • Ice: Applying an ice pack to the skin for roughly 20 minutes can provide relief. People can repeat this step several times throughout the day, being sure to use a towel or cloth to wrap the pack and never applying ice directly to the skin.
  • Compression: Wearing compression bandages can aid in reducing swelling.
  • Elevation: Elevating the injured leg can also assist in reducing swelling.

Along with following the RICE method, people with shin splints are encouraged to engage in flexibility exercises as well as review their footwear. Especially for active people, wearing supportive shoes when engaging in exercise is critical to reducing the risk of worsening MTSS.

In extreme cases where the pain is severe or the injury persists for several months, surgery may be required to treat MTSS. Known as a fasciotomy, the procedure helps release the tissue surrounding the calf muscles, which can relieve discomfort.

Exercises to help medial tibial stress syndrome

Stretching is one of the best ways to recover and prevent shin splints from reoccurring. People will want to focus on stretching the calf, soleus, and gastrocnemius muscles, which are all located in the back of the leg.

Learn seven valuable stretches to relieve MTSS pain and discomfort.

How long does recovery from medial tibial stress syndrome take?

For most MTSS injuries, people are able to fully recover in roughly 2 weeks.

During this time, engaging in strenuous activity isn’t recommended since it can make the injury worse. For more severe cases, the timeline can be extended to include post-operative recovery if surgery is required to treat MTSS.

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The most frequent treatment method for MTSS is at-home care, which follows the RICE method. This means that for most people, treating shin splints is fairly inexpensive and will include the cost of over-the-counter pain medications and potentially ice packs or compression bandages.

It’s important to note that in the United States, medical expenses for a fasciotomy, surgery, and other options can vary widely depending on a person’s insurance (if insured), location, and where the treatment occurs.

Research from 2021 looked at the cost of needle fasciotomy, collagenase injection/cord manipulation, and open fasciotomy. Of the three procedures, collagenase injections had the highest average cost in the United States at $4,453.66 versus $3,394.90 for open fasciotomy, and $2,010.75 for needle fasciotomy.

When contacting an insurance company about this procedure, a person might need the following code: ICD-10-CM M79.A29. This is the official medical billing code for fasciotomy for lower body extremities, such as the legs and feet.

For most people, MTSS or shin splints are an annoying but temporary condition that can often be resolved with at-home treatments that follow the RICE method.

In extreme cases, some people may need a fasciotomy to alleviate the pain.

However, engaging in proper stretching before exercise, as well as avoiding worn-out or damaged footwear for strenuous activities, can aid in the prevention of shin splints.