If you have discomfort in the front of your lower leg when you walk, you could have:
Learn more about these potential injuries and how to treat and prevent them.
In the medical world, shin splints are known as medial tibial stress syndrome. This refers to the pain along your tibia, the long bone in the front of your lower leg or shin.
Shin splints is a cumulative stress disorder that’s often experienced by runners, dancers, and military recruits. It often occurs with a change or intensification of physical training that overworks the tendons, muscles, and bone tissue.
If you have shin splints, you may have:
- a dull ache in the front part of the lower leg
- pain that increases during high impact exercise, such as running
- pain on the inner side of your shinbone
- mild lower leg swelling
Shin splints can typically be treated with self-care, including:
- Rest. Although you should avoid activities that cause pain, you can still participate in low impact exercise, such as bicycling or swimming.
- Pain relievers. To relieve discomfort, try over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen sodium (Aleve), or ibuprofen (Advil).
- Ice. To reduce swelling, put ice packs on your shin 4 to 8 times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Pain in your lower leg could be caused by a tiny crack in your shinbone called a stress fracture, or an incomplete crack in the bone.
A stress fracture is caused by overuse. It’s most common in sports with repetitive action, such as running, basketball, soccer, and gymnastics.
If you have a stress fracture of your tibia, you may experience:
- dull pain that can be localized to a specific area on your shin
- mild swelling
Stress fractures can often be treated with the RICE method:
- Rest. Stop the activity believed to have caused the fracture until cleared by your doctor. Recovery may take 6 to 8 weeks.
- Ice. Apply ice to the area to reduce swelling and inflammation.
- Compression. Wrap your lower leg with a soft bandage to help prevent additional swelling.
- Elevation. Raise your lower leg higher than your heart as often as possible.
The pain in your shin could be caused by compartment syndrome, also known as chronic exertional compartment system.
Compartment syndrome is a muscle and nerve condition typically caused by exercise. It’s most common in runners, soccer players, skiers, and basketball players.
If you have compartment syndrome in your lower leg, you may experience:
Treatment for compartment syndrome typically includes:
- physical therapy
- orthotic shoe inserts
- anti-inflammatory medication
If compartment syndrome becomes acute — typically associated with trauma — it becomes a surgical emergency.
Your doctor will most likely recommend a fasciotomy. This is a surgical procedure where they open the fascia (myofascial tissue) and skin to relieve pressure.
The root causes of shin pain can often be traced to overuse. The first step to prevent shin pain is to cut back on high impact exercise.
Other steps you can take include the following:
- Make sure you have proper footwear with a good fit and support.
- Consider using orthotics, for foot positioning and shock absorption.
- Warm up before exercising. Be sure to stretch properly.
- Choose a good exercise surface. Avoid hard surfaces, uneven terrain, and slated surfaces.
- Avoid playing through the pain.
If you have unexplained shin pain when you walk or run, you could be experiencing:
- shin splints
- a stress fracture
- compartment syndrome
Be sure to visit a doctor so they can diagnose the cause of your discomfort. They can also develop a treatment plan to relieve your pain and get you back on your feet.