Diagnosis and Treatment of Shin Splints in Wake County

What are Shin Splints?

Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, are an inflammation of the muscles and tendons around the tibia, or shinbone. Shin splints typically develop after physical activity and are the result of repetitive impact activity, such as running or jumping on hard surfaces. Shin splints are common in athletes, especially those who have recently intensified or changed their training routine. At Raleigh Orthopaedic, we are here to provide support and treatment for a wide variety of orthopedic conditions, including shin splint treatment, in the Triangle area.

What Causes Shin Splints?

Shin splints usually follow a sudden increase in frequency, intensity, or duration of athletic training. Runners are at the highest risk of developing shin splints. Dancers and military recruits are two other groups frequently diagnosed with the condition. Other potential causes of shin splints include:

  • Participating in activities or sports that occur on harder surfaces
  • Having flat feet or abnormally rigid arches
  • Exercising with improper or worn-out footwear

Symptoms of Shin Splints

There are several possible symptoms of shin splints. If you notice pain in your shin area that interferes with exercise or sports, or if you experience pain combined with any of the symptoms listed here, we encourage you to schedule an appointment at Raleigh Orthopaedic. A member of our sports medicine team will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and ensure that you take the best next steps for pain relief. Symptoms of shin splints include:

  • Pain along the inner edge of the shinbone, or tibia
  • Dull, aching pain that occurs in the posterior medial tibia just below the mid-portion of the bone
  • Shin that is tender to the touch
  • Pain that is usually heightened during activity and relieved by rest

How are Shin Splints Diagnosed?

When you see an orthopedic physician for shin splints, they will most likely start by asking you about your medical history and your symptoms. Your doctor will then conduct a physical examination as part of the diagnostic process. They may ask you to walk so they can examine your foot and ankle during movement. Imaging tests such as X-rays may be ordered occasionally to rule out other causes of your pain, like stress fractures.

Treatment Options for Shin Splints at Raleigh Orthopaedic

Nonsurgical Treatment

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Treatment for shin splints is nonsurgical, with simple steps often bringing relief. Conservative treatment methods for shin splints include:

  • Rest: Since shin splints are typically caused by overuse, standard treatment includes several weeks of rest from the activity that caused the pain. Lower impact types of aerobic activity can be substituted during recovery, such as swimming or using a stationary bike.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications: Drugs like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen reduce pain and swelling.
  • Ice: Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Compression: Wearing an elastic compression bandage may prevent additional swelling.
  • Flexibility exercises: Stretching your lower leg muscles may make your shins feel better.
  • Supportive shoes: Wearing shoes with good cushioning during daily activities will help reduce stress in your shins.
  • Orthotics: People who have flat feet or recurrent problems with shin splints may benefit from orthotics. Shoe inserts can help align and stabilize the foot and ankle, taking stress off of the lower leg.

Surgical Treatment Options

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In rare cases, where conservative treatment methods are not successful in addressing shin splints, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery to treat shin splints is called fasciotomy. This procedure involves making strategic cuts in the fascia tissue that surrounds the muscles of the calf. This process helps to relieve pressure that has built up within the muscle compartments. However, very few people with shin splints need surgery to find relief from their pain.

Shin Splints Recovery Time

Before returning to exercise, you should be pain-free for at least two weeks. When you return to exercise, it must be at a lower level of intensity. You should not be exercising as often as you did before, or for the same length of time. Be sure to warm up and stretch thoroughly before you exercise. Increase training slowly. If you start to feel the same pain you had before your treatment, stop exercising immediately, and then use a cold pack and rest for a day or two. Return to training again at a lower level of intensity, and increase training even more slowly than before. Following these steps is crucial in preventing pain from reoccurring and being able to safely remain physically active.

Can Shin Splints Be Prevented?

It may not be possible to prevent shin splints entirely. However, there are several techniques you can follow to reduce your risk of shin pain. The best way to avoid shin splints is to wear comfortable shoes that provide proper support. When exercising, starting off slowly and gradually increasing activity level is a great way to prevent injury. If possible, you should also limit your time spent running on hard surfaces, like concrete.

Comprehensive Sports Medicine Care at Raleigh Orthopaedic

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Your well-being is important to us. Raleigh Orthopaedic is Wake County’s oldest and most experienced orthopedic practice, serving the Triangle and surrounding regions of central North Carolina with comprehensive orthopedic care for over 100 years. We are proud to provide sports medicine care personalized to each athlete who comes to see us. No matter your sport or injury, we will work to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and help you find relief. To schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists in Wake County, please call the clinic location nearest you or book online today!