Do shin splints go away?

Shin splints usually go away on their own, but only if proper care is taken. Shin splints are an overuse injury which is really common in runners. Most of the treatment involves activity modification, combined with anti-inflammatories and possibly physical therapy. I got them pretty bad during my first season running in high school. They did go away, but only after I stopped running for a while. As an orthopedic surgeon in Colorado Springs, I don’t often see shin splints a lot in my patients. That’s not because people aren’t getting it, but rather they aren’t going to see the doctor about it.

What causes shin splints?

Shin splints are caused by the muscles of your calves pulling on the shin bone (the tibia), which causes inflammation of the periosteum. The periosteum is a layer of tissue that lines the outsides of most bones. Since shin splints are an overuse injury, what is happening is that the muscles in your calf are pulling too much on the bone, which then causes inflammation and pain. 

How do you heal shin splints?

First know that it is unlikely that your shin splints will progress into anything worse. You do have to be aware of having a stress fracture in your shin, but this is something that occurs separately. The difference is that shin splints usually feel better when you run, while a tibial stress fracture usually feels worse. Since shin splints is an overuse injury, the most important step to take in healing it is to modify your activities. If running is bothering it, you may want to switch to biking or swimming for a while until it goes away. If you must still run, picking up a new pair of shoes and running on soft surfaces and avoiding hills should help. Those with flat feet may also find relief with orthotics that offer arch support. Anti-inflammatories and stretching should help as well. In some cases, a formal course of physical therapy will help stretch and strengthen the appropriate muscles. My orthopedic practice is in Colorado Springs where there are a lot of runners. Just know that you are not alone in having your shin splints, and with proper care they should go away.

I hope I was able to answer your questions about if shin splints go away on their own. If you still have any questions or want to schedule an in person or virtual consult, please feel free to contact me.

-Written by Dr. Daniel Paull

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