Medial tibial stress syndrome is the medical term for shin splints, a common ailment among runners and other athletes. It is usually the result of an overuse injury in which pain and inflammation along the shin are caused by excess strain. A person can develop medial tibial stress syndrome if he or she suddenly increases activity level or starts a new rigorous exercise routine. Most cases of shin splints are mild and temporary, and people can recover in about two weeks with rest and simple home care techniques. Pain that is severe or persists for several weeks may be a sign of a more serious problem that needs to be addressed by a doctor.
A person of any age and athletic ability can develop medial tibial stress syndrome. Inflammation of muscles, tendons, and the tibia bone itself occur when more stress than usual is applied to the leg. A runner might experience problems if he or she decides to start going longer distances, run faster, or trek uphill. Sports that require frequent stops and turns, such as basketball and soccer, can put extra strain on the shins and lead to symptoms as well. Uncomfortable or improper footwear increase the chances of developing shin splints.
The most common symptom of medial tibial stress syndrome is dull pain along the shin that seems to get worse shortly after engaging in activity and at bedtime. If steps are not taken to relieve shin splints, pain can become a chronic nuisance. There may also be swelling and tenderness to the touch that get worse over time. If a shin fracture occurs, pain tends to be sharp, immediate, and debilitating.
Most cases of medial tibial stress syndrome do not require medical intervention. A person can usually overcome mild symptoms at home by avoiding physical activity for one to two weeks, icing the shin several times a day, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Elevating the affected leg during rest can further help reduce pain and swelling. Once the leg starts feeling better, it is important to return to activity gradually to avoid aggravating the condition. A person should make sure not to overexert him or herself during exercise and consider investing in more comfortable, supportive footwear.
If pain worsens or does not go away with home care, it is usually a good idea to visit a doctor. A physical exam and x-rays may reveal a fracture, a large bone bruise, or damage to a tendon. The doctor can prescribe high-strength painkillers and explain the importance of rest and ice to promote healing. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair severely damaged tissue. Physical therapy exercises can help most people return to regular activity levels a few months after surgery.