Persistent Shin Splints: Why Won’t They Go Away?
Updated April 26, 2023.
Shin splint is a common term referring to persistent pain along the tibia due to overuse or repetitive stress of the muscles and tendons that attach to the shinbone. They are common in dancers, runners, military recruits, or athletes who have recently intensified their activity levels.
Apart from pain, the condition presents with tenderness, soreness, and swelling sometimes. There may also be tightness or weakness in the lower leg muscles.
Shin splints' recovery time may vary from person to person, depending on the severity of the condition and its management. With a mild shin splint, symptoms dissipate within a few days to weeks, provided the leg gets rested. In more severe cases, recovery may take months with treatment, including physical therapy and taping. Experts recommend a gradual return to physical activity, beginning with low-impact exercises and progressing the exercises as symptoms improve.
Despite treatment, you may sometimes notice that shin splints are not going away. There are several other reasons why this may be so. Here are some of them.
Reasons Your Shin Splints Aren’t Going Away
Shin splint is a non-specific term used to describe pain in the lower leg. It includes conditions like medial tibial stress syndrome, tibial stress fractures, chronic compartment syndrome, exertional compartment syndrome, and periostitis.
While shin splints are treatable, some (e.g. medial tibial stress syndrome, anterior shin splints, and tibial stress fracture) take longer to heal. It's helpful to know which specific condition is occurring to plan the treatment appropriately and adjust treatment expectations accordingly.
Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome
Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is an overuse injury caused by overuse of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue in the shin area. It's the most common cause of shin splints that don't get better quickly and is even more prevalent among runners.
MTSS is characterized by pain that may be diffuse and widespread or localized to a specific area. When the pain is localized at a point, the condition is easy to diagnose—there may also be tenderness at the anterior edge of the tibia bone.
Even with an easy diagnosis, the condition can still be debilitating and interfere with your training (the pain increases the more you run). Generally, recovery after MTSS takes three weeks to four months.
Anterior Shin Splints
Anterior shin splint is a type of MTSS that occurs when the large muscle on the front of your leg and beside the sharp edge of the shin bone) is inflamed. It's caused by the overuse of this muscle, mostly due to activities that involve repeated impact, such as running or jumping. This puts pressure on the muscle, leading to its inflammation.
Anterior shin splints are easy to diagnose. A test for anterior shin splint is positive if there is pain and tenderness on palpation of the anterior tibial muscle. With proper treatment and rest, the average recovery time after an anterior shin splint is 4-6 weeks.
Tibial Stress Fracture
Though less common than MTSS, a tibial stress fracture can become very painful without proper treatment. It's a stress fracture of the tibia bone, common in new runners who escalate their training program too quickly. It also occurs when short-course runners suddenly transition into marathons or ultramarathons. (sudden increase in running distance) or by running on hard surfaces (concrete, asphalt).
There is a real risk of the condition worsening if not properly treated. There is also a risk of re-injury. That's why shin splints must be properly managed. While the recovery time after tibial stress fractures may vary based on the severity of the fracture and the individual's situation, recovery generally takes 6-8 weeks.
» Pick the best insoles to alleviate shin splint pain
Say Goodbye to Shin Splints
With the proper treatment, recovery will be quick, and you can return to normal activities without pain or discomfort. If your shin splint takes longer than expected to heal, you should consult your doctor to determine the reason behind the delay and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Sometimes, this could be because of a misdiagnosis, an underlying condition, inadequate rest, or inappropriate treatment.
Rest is essential to speed up the healing process. In some cases, changing your footwear or running technique may also be necessary. Also, insoles can provide support and pain relief from shin splints. The best insoles for preventing shin splints are the ones that are custom-made for your foot.
Upstep’s custom orthotics are designed by professional podiatrists using the best quality materials. Customized according to the individual’s foot specification, these medical-grade orthotics absorb shock, relieve pain, and improve energy transfer during walking or running. In turn, this reduces stress on the shin bone and the muscles around it, aiding recovery from shin splints.