When Should I Worry About Shin Pain?

Medically Reviewed on 11/2/2022
When Should I Worry About Shin Pain
Shin pain accompanied by swelling, bruising, deformity, a lump, or a snapping sound could indicate a serious problem

Shin pain is typically not something to worry about unless the pain is severe and does not resolve with rest, ice, and pain relievers. 

Shin pain accompanied by swelling, bruising, deformity, a lump, or a snapping sound could indicate a fracture or tumor and requires medical attention.

What can cause shin pain and how to treat it

Shin splints

Also called medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints refer to pain in the shinbone or tibia. Shin splints are commonly seen in athletes, dancers, and military recruits. The pain is due to the overuse of muscles, tendons, and connective tissues surrounding the shin bone that causes inflammation of the tissues around the tibia.

  • Causes
    • Running on hills; new runners are at increased risk of shin splints
    • Prolonged training
    • Increased workout intensity or going for longer distances
    • Activities that involve frequent or abrupt stops, such as dancing
  • Risk factors
    • Exercising on hard surfaces
    • Flat feet or rigid foot arches
    • Poorly fitted footwear
  • Symptoms
    • Dull aching pain in one or both shins that subsides with rest
    • Pain when you push or apply pressure on the shins
    • Severe pain in the lower leg with vigorous exercise or repetitive actions, such as dancing or running
    • Severe pain even when you are not engaging in any activities (in severe cases)
  • Management
    • Avoid vigorous activities and try to rest for at least 2-4 weeks
    • Wait until the pain has been gone for at least 2 weeks before resuming routine activities
    • Exercise for shorter durations and increase the intensity gradually 
    • Warmup and cooldown before and after the exercise
    • Apply ice packs to relieve pain and swelling after exercise
    • Wear comfortable, padded, well-fitting shoes 
    • Opt for low-impact exercises, such as swimming or biking

Minor injury

Minor injury to the shinbone can cause shin pain and bruises.

  • Causes
    • Fall
    • Blow to the shin
  • Symptoms
  • Management
    • Rest for at least 4-5 weeks until the pain has subsided
    • Apply ice packs to reduce inflammation
    • Elevate the leg to prevent swelling and inflammation

Stress fracture

Stress fractures are caused by the overuse of muscles around the tibia. Stress gets transferred from the muscle to the bone, leading to tiny cracks or stress fractures. Studies have reported that women, athletes, and military recruits are at a higher risk of developing stress fractures.

Stress fractures must be treated immediately because they can worsen with continuous stress, leading to more complicated fractures.

  • Causes
    • Improper or worn-out footwear
    • Sudden increases in physical activity
    • High-intensity training
    • Running for longer distances
  • Symptoms
    • Severe shin pain when putting weight on the leg
    • Pain for prolonged periods
    • Tenderness at the injury site
    • Swelling at the injury site
    • Inability to bear weight on the affected limb
  • Management 
    • Adequate rest
    • Avoiding activity
    • Anti-inflammatory medications
    • Compression bandages
    • Crutches

Bone fracture

The shinbone is a long bone that is prone to fractures. 

  • Causes
    • Bad falls
    • Car accidents
  • Symptoms
    • Severe and instant pain
    • Excessive swelling
    • Deformity of the leg
    • Bone poking out of the skin
  • Management
    • Wearing splints
    • Immobilizing the leg using a cast
    • Braces to support the leg until it is fully healed
    • Surgery if the fracture does not heal with the nonsurgical approaches
Medically Reviewed on 11/2/2022
Image Source: iStock image

What Are Shin Splints? https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/shin-splints

Shin splints - self-care. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000654.htm

Shin Splints. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/shin-splints/