Anterior Shin Splints


Anterior shin splints, also known as anterior tibial stress syndrome, refer to lower leg pain in the front outside the shin bone. 

Injury associated with exercise-induced leg pain is a frequent issue among athletes and those who regularly participate in physical activity.

What Are Anterior Shin Splints?

Anterior shin splints, also known as anterior tibial stress syndrome, refer to the pain and inflammation on the lower leg’s front (anterior) part, specifically the shinbone (tibia). Unlike other shin splints, anterior shin splints occur outside the shinbone and can be felt as dull, aching pain.

Young adult male with his muscle pain during running.
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The cause of anterior shin splints is repetitive stress on the shinbone and the connective tissue surrounding it, resulting from activities such as running, jumping, or dancing. This repetitive stress can lead to microtears in the muscle tissue and inflammation of the connective tissue, resulting in pain and discomfort.

Diagnosing anterior shin splints typically involves a physical examination and medical history. X-rays and other imaging tests may be used to rule out other possible causes of lower leg pain, such as stress fractures or tendonitis.

How Do Anterior Shin Splints Differ From Other Types of Shin Splints?

Anterior shin splints differ from other types in location and symptoms. Anterior shin splints occur on the lower leg’s front (anterior) part and can be felt as a dull, aching pain. Posterior shin splints occur on the lower leg’s inside (medial) part and can be felt as a sharp, stabbing pain. Medial tibial stress syndrome refers to pain along the entire length of the shinbone and is often associated with swelling.

While all types of shin splints can be caused by repetitive stress on the shinbone, the location and severity of pain can vary. It is important to correctly diagnose the type of shin splints to determine the most effective treatment.

  • Anterior shin splints: pain on the front (anterior) part of the lower leg
  • Posterior shin splints: pain on the inside (medial) part of the lower leg
  • Medial tibial stress syndrome: pain along the entire length of the shinbone

Symptoms of Anterior Shin Splints

If you have anterior shin splints, you typically experience pain in the front of your lower leg, between your knee and ankle. This pain can range from mild to severe and may be constant or intermittent.

Other common symptoms of anterior shin splints include:

  • Tenderness or soreness in the affected area
  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Pain that worsens with activity and improves with rest
  • Pain that is worse when you first start exercising
  • Pain that decreases as you continue to exercise

You may also experience small bumps or lumps along your shin bone in severe cases. This is a sign that your anterior tibial muscle has been pulled away from the bone, which can cause significant pain and discomfort.

How Long Do the Symptoms Last?

The duration of the symptoms of anterior shin splints can vary depending on the severity of the injury. Sometimes, the symptoms may disappear within a few days with rest and proper treatment. However, more severe injuries can take several weeks or even months to heal fully.

3. Causes of Anterior Shin Splints

Repetitive stress on the muscles and tendons of the lower leg typically causes anterior shin splints. Specifically, stress on the tibia bone and the muscles and tendons that attach to it often cause them to deteriorate. Several different factors can cause this stress.

Young adult male with his muscle pain during running.
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1. Overuse

Overuse is the most common cause of anterior shin splints. This occurs when the muscles and tendons of the lower leg are subjected to repetitive stress over a prolonged period. This is often seen in runners and other athletes who engage in activities that require a great deal of running, jumping, or other high-impact movements.

2. Improper Footwear

Wearing improper footwear is another common cause of anterior shin splints. Shoes that do not provide adequate support or cushioning can place added stress on the muscles and tendons of the lower leg, leading to injury over time. This is particularly common in athletes who wear worn-out shoes or shoes that are designed for something other than the specific activity they are performing.

3. Anatomical Factors

Various anatomical factors can also contribute to developing anterior shin splints. For example, people with flat feet or high arches may be more prone to developing this condition, as these foot types can place added stress on the lower leg muscles and tendons. Similarly, people with tight calf muscles or weak shin muscles may also be at increased risk for anterior shin splints.

Regardless of the specific cause of anterior shin splints, it is important to address the issue promptly to avoid further injury and promote proper healing.

Risk Factors for Anterior Shin Splints

While anyone can develop anterior shin splints, certain factors can increase your risk of experiencing this condition.

1. Overuse

Overuse is a common cause of anterior shin splints and can occur when you increase the frequency or intensity of your workouts too quickly. To prevent anterior shin splints from occurring, gradually increasing your activity level over time is important.

2. Flat Feet

People with flat feet are more prone to experiencing anterior shin splints. This is because their feet do not properly absorb shock, which can lead to increased stress on the lower leg. If you have flat feet, wearing shoes that provide adequate support and cushioning is important.

anterior shin splints
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3. Muscle Imbalances

Imbalances in the lower leg muscles can also increase your risk of developing anterior shin splints. Certain muscles can become overworked and tired, while others must be more utilised. To prevent muscle imbalances, it is important to perform exercises targeting all of the lower leg muscles.

4. Poor Running Form

Running with poor form can increase your risk of developing anterior shin splints. The improper form can stress lower leg muscles and bones. To prevent the injury caused by poor running form, it is important to work with a coach or trainer to correct your form.

5. Pre-Existing Conditions

Certain conditions, such as anterior tibial stress syndrome, can increase your risk of developing anterior shin splints. If you have a pre-existing condition affecting your lower legs, taking proper precautions to prevent further injury is important.

By understanding the risk factors associated with anterior shin splints, you can take steps to prevent this condition from occurring.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Anterior Shin Splints

If you suspect you have anterior shin splints, seeing a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment is important. They will perform a physical exam and inquire about your symptoms, medical history, and activities that may contribute to the injury. They may also order imaging tests such as X-rays and MRIs to rule out other potential causes of lower leg pain.

Treatment Options

Initial treatment for the injury typically involves rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). This will help reduce inflammation and pain in the affected area. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen may also be recommended.

If the symptoms persist, your healthcare professional may suggest physical therapy to help restore flexibility and strength to the affected area. They may also recommend orthotics or shoe inserts to provide support and reduce stress on the shins.

Surgery may be necessary in severe cases to correct any structural issues in the lower leg.

Managing Symptoms

While undergoing treatment, it’s important to manage the symptoms of anterior shin splints to prevent further damage. This may involve modifying your activities to reduce stress on the shins, such as avoiding high-impact exercises and gradually increasing your training intensity. It’s also important to wear appropriate footwear and ensure they fit properly.

Stretching and foam rolling may also help alleviate tightness in the lower leg muscles. Your healthcare professional or physical therapist can guide specific exercises to incorporate into your routine.

Most people with anterior shin splints can fully recover and return to regular activities with proper diagnosis, treatment, and management.

Recovery Exercises for Anterior Shin Splints

Recovery exercises are essential to the treatment process for anterior shin splints. By helping to strengthen the muscles in the lower leg, they can help prevent the condition from recurring.

1. Calf Stretches

Calf stretches are an important part of recovery exercise for those with anterior shin splints. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lean forward to perform a calf stretch. Keep your heels firmly on the ground and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat this stretch three times.

2. Toe Raises

To perform toe raises, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lift your heels off the ground, rising onto the balls of your feet. Hold the position for a few seconds before slowly lowering your heels back to the ground. Repeat this exercise for 10 repetitions.

3. Ankle Rotations

Ankle rotations can help strengthen the lower leg muscles and improve flexibility. To perform ankle rotations, sit down and rotate your ankle in a circular motion. Perform 10 rotations in one direction before switching to the opposite direction.

4. Resistance Band Exercises

Resistance band exercises can be a helpful way to strengthen the muscles in the lower leg. Place a resistance band around your ankles and walk forward straight. Repeat this exercise for 10 repetitions.

Happy African Woman In Sportswear Exercising With Elastic Band
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It’s important to perform recovery exercises for injuries consistently and correctly. Stop immediately and consult your healthcare provider if you experience any pain or discomfort while performing these exercises.

Preventing Anterior Shin Splints

Prevention is always better than cure, especially regarding anterior shin splints. Here are some practical steps you can take to minimise your risk of developing this painful condition:

Choose the Right Footwear

Wearing the wrong type of shoes can increase your chances of developing anterior shin splints. Ensure you invest in supportive footwear appropriate for your activity level. High-impact exercises require shoes with extra cushioning, whereas low-impact activities like yoga require less support.

Don’t Overdo It

Overuse is a common cause of anterior shin splints. Make sure you gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercise routine to avoid putting too much strain on your lower legs. Listen to your body and take breaks when necessary.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Warming up before exercising and cooling down afterwards can help prevent anterior shin splints. Start with some light stretching to warm your muscles up before you begin your workout, and finish with some gentle stretches to help your muscles recover.

Strengthen Your Legs

Weaker leg muscles can increase your risk of developing anterior shin splints. Incorporate strength training exercises into your workout routine to help build up the muscles in your lower legs and make them more resilient to injury.

Watch Your Form

Improper technique can put undue strain on your lower legs, leading to anterior shin splints. Ensure you use the correct form when performing exercises and seek professional guidance if necessary.

By taking these steps to prevent injuries, you can ensure that you stay healthy and pain-free while pursuing your fitness goals.

Frequently Asked Questions about Anterior Shin Splints

Treatment for anterior shin splints involves:

Rest to allow healing, ice to reduce inflammation, calf and shin stretches for flexibility, strengthening exercises for support, proper footwear with arch support, using orthotic inserts, gradual return to activity, over-the-counter pain relievers for discomfort, physical therapy for targeted exercises, and seeking medical evaluation if pain persists.

Are anterior shin splints bad?

While anterior shin splints cause discomfort and limit activities, they are generally not severe. Most cases can be managed and resolved with proper rest and treatment without long-term damage.

What causes anterior shin splints? 

Overuse and repetitive stress on the muscles and tendons of the front lower leg, especially during running, jumping, or abrupt movements, are common causes. Improper footwear, muscle imbalances, and hard surfaces may contribute.

How long to heal anterior shin splints? 

Healing time varies based on severity and adherence to treatment. Mild cases may improve within weeks, but severe or underlying issues may take several weeks to months to fully heal.