Shin Splints: What are they really?


By Stephen Karam PT, DPT,

In the lexicon of medicine, “shin splints” is yet another phrase that has a specific and real definition.  The real name for this condition is called Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS).  That sounds much worse and more ominous than “shin splints.”  MTSS generally presents as pain just along or right behind the shin bone (tibia).  It is pain caused by inflammation or disruption of tissue that connects the the muscles of her lower leg to the tibia.  Fortunately, MTSS is very curable and rarely requires a medical procedure other than a visit to your Physician or Physical Therapist to diagnoses it properly.  It is a common injury that is seen frequently in runners and athletes that have to play on hard surfaces or those who have to start/stop frequently.

MTSS can develop into more serious conditions such as a stress reaction/fracture or compartment syndrome.  It is also very important to rule out these 2 conditions before MTSS is ruled in.  Signs of something worse like compartment syndrome may include redness, hotness, significant swelling or feeling of pressure building in your lower leg.  Signs of a stress reaction may include pain at rest, pain for a long period of time and increased pain in a weight bearing or standing position.

Risk Factors of “shin splints” may include:

  • Tight/stiff muscles of the legs and gastrocs
  • Worn down or old running shoes
  • Runners who over pronate or who have flat feet
  • Runners who are beginning a new running program
  • Individuals participating in high impact, high intensity sports/workouts

Tips to manage or prevent shin splints:

  • Wear appropriate shoes or arch support for your foot shape and mechanics
  • Warm up before activity and stretch afterwards
  • Ice or cold treatment to shins when painful
  • Participate in less impact activities like swimming, biking, elliptical
  • Listen to your body when it is in pain

Most health insurance plans now allow patients to seek physical therapy treatment directly without a physician referral.

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Clinic Director Stephen Karam PT, DPT, earned his doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Kentucky after completing a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. He is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). He specializes in manual therapy with a strong emphasis in orthopedics and sports medicine. In his spare time, he enjoys tennis, working out, music and football.


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