Stepping Up the Research on Shin Splints

Shin splints often happen to athletes, especially runners, ballet dancers, and soldiers in basic training. Though shin splints are a common problem, not much is known about what causes this painful condition and what to do about it. Since many athletes lose time in training and performance to shin splints, this condition requires careful study.

A group of researchers took a step back to get a broad view of this problem. They reviewed many articles and textbooks with information about shin splints. They noticed the following:

  • Many different conditions have been labeled “shin splints.”

  • The definition of shin splints is confusing and varies.

  • Symptoms vary by sport because different muscles and tendons are used in different activities.

  • Coaches and trainers see the athlete when the problem first develops, but the problem may look different when the athlete goes to see the doctor later.

  • There are specific risk factors for shin splints including excessive or competitive running, previous injuries, and poor physical condition.

  • Evidence for treatment that works is very limited. Most studies are done on soldiers and may not reflect how the general population responds to treatment.

Two things are clear from this review of the literature. First, the use of shock-absorbing inserts or insoles can reduce the occurrence of shin splints in young male athletes. These insoles may have the same effect on other people, but no study has been done to prove this. Second, preseason conditioning has been shown to prevent shin splints.

Researchers now have a series of new questions to ask. Answering these questions will help coaches, trainers, and athletes prevent this and other injuries.