The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

My Shin Is Feeling Kind Of Splinty

Posted by on Friday, April 6th, 2012


When I was in third grade, I kicked a boy in the shin so hard that it left a bruise–on the boy, not me. It was a direct hit, full square from the blunt toes of my lace up, sensible oxford shoes, a blow that made him hop up and down and say, “Ow! Ow!” Since we were friends and this had actually happened while we were just being super amped up third graders, we both also thought it was pretty funny. Our teacher didn’t think so, though. Oops.

Years later (and you don’t need to know how many, thank you), I started to feel a pain down the front of my shins with every step I took–well, at least every running step, as by then I had gotten seriously into running. I wondered if it was the ghost of that one tremendous kick, come back to haunt me. No–it turned out to be shin splints, the evil companion of everyone who runs.

Shin splints make up about 13% of all running injuries, which seems small to me; it seems like everyone I know who does any kind of running has had them at one time or another. Dancers and others who do high impact activities, like basketball players also get them. So let’s find out about shin splints (and don’t worry, we’ll explain what something to do with your shin is doing on a podiatry blog)!

Umm, what is my shin? I figure most people know, but let’s be clear, just in case. The shin is another name for the tibia, the long strong front bone that runs from your knee to your ankle (the thinner fibula, behind the tibia, is the other bone that connects your knee to your ankle).

What are shin splints? That sounds more like a type of cast than an injury. A shin splint isn’t an actual injury, but rather is the result of other conditions. “Shin splint” really describes the location of pain caused by an injury, such as a stress fracture or inflammation from overuse.

I was just going to ask what causes shin splints… Other injuries, like stress fractures or overuse! Since stress fractures are an overuse injury, I guess we can lump it all together in the “repetitive motion category.” As noted above, it’s common in people who are constantly pounding their feet into the ground–runners, avid walkers, dancers, basketball players.

And that brings us to the reason why something to do with your shin is being talked about on a blog about feet–if you’re feet are working aggressively and undergoing a lot of heavy trauma, that pain is going to travel up your leg.

Here are some specific examples of foot problems that can lead to shin splints:

  • Flat feet
  • Running on hard, ungiving surfaces such as concrete
  • Shoes without support
  • Tight leg muscles

How do I know I have these “shin splints?” This is probably the one good thing about shin splints (let me know if you have others)–the pain is so specific and local that it’s pretty easy to tell. Think about that shin bone running between your knee and your ankle. If you feel a dull, aching pain on the outer or inner edge of that bone, maybe a 4-6 inch area, then that’s a shin splint. You may also notice that the pain is worse at the beginning and end of a workout, but isn’t as bad during the main part of your activity. This leads to, “Hey, it stopped hurting so I can keep running” syndrome.

If the pain is really bad, you should try to see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to get a full diagnosis. You may need X-rays to find out if there is a stress fracture in the area.

Okay, fine, my shin really splints, I mean hurts. Now what do I do? The immediate way to deal with the pain is to ice the area, take over the counter anti-inflammatories, and rest. Yes, that’s right–take a break from your your foot pounding activity of choice. It’s time to hit the bike or the pool, until the pain disappears and you can run, dance or jump pain free.

Then I’m fine forever, right? Well, no, because we didn’t solve the underlying problem that caused the shin splint pain. Here are some steps you can take to make sure you don’t get shin splints again:

  • Orthotics – If your shin splints come from flat feet, then orthotics can help provide arch support. A podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) can custom fit your foot for orthotics that will make everything from running to standing for a long period of time hurt a lot less (I should also note that although most sources don’t list high arches as a cause of shin splints, I’m pretty sure that’s what caused mine, and when I got orthotics the pain went away).
  • Good shoes – Make sure you have the right shoes for your activity,whether it’s running, dancing or playing basketball. Look for shoes that support your arches and offer some cushioning. Stiff-soled, completely flat shoes will hurt, not help.
  • The Right Surface – Try not to run on super hard surfaces like concrete. A blocks of sidewalk on your way home won’t hurt you, but don’t run twelve miles every day on that kind of surface. Find areas with softer asphalt or dirt paths. If you’re a basketball player, look for asphalt courts or indoor courts that are built to have some give. If you dance, work with companies that rehearse and perform on floors made for dancing.
  • Stretch – Tight calf muscles and Achilles tendons can cause the inflammation that leads to shin pain, so do some stretches to loosen up those areas before you workout. You can find some great, simple calf stretches here.

Shin splints are one of those nagging injuries that almost everyone who’s active runs into, especially when they’re just starting out. The key to remember, though, is that like many leg injuries, the answer lies in your feet. Keep your feet happy and maybe you can avoid the shin injury plague.

If you have any questions about shin pain or foot pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.