While the term seems to imply a bone issue, specifically a problem with the shin bone, or tibia, shin splints are actually an inflammation of the muscles, tendons and tissue along the tibia. The condition, also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is common for runners, especially those running on hard surfaces.
The primary symptom is pain that runs along the inside edge of the tibia, where the muscles are attached to the bone. It may be sharp pain, or dull, throbbing pain, and it can occur both during and after activity. Specific spots may be sore to the touch, much like a bruise, but with no discoloration.
Usually shin splints occur as a result of overworking a particular exercise, or when an exercise is increased in frequency or intensity. Runners who have increased their distance or begin running a more difficult route will often report shin splints. Dancers also report a greater frequency of shin splints.
Poorly fitting or worn out shoes can increase a person’s risk for developing shin splints, as can having flat feet.
Rest, ice and stretching can bring some relief, but careful monitoring of an exercise and intensity is best to avoid development of shin splints in the first place.
The pain associated with shin splints can be quite similar to stress fractures. It is best to consult a doctor in the case of severe pain to consider the possibility of a stress fracture or tendinitis rather than shin splints.