Your doctor will ask whether you play a sport that requires a lot of running or brisk walking and whether you recently increased your training intensity. Also, your doctor will ask about the timing of your pain in relation to your training sessions and whether pain continues when you are at rest.
Your doctor usually can diagnose shin splints based on your symptoms, your history of athletic activity and a physical examination. Your doctor will examine your shin area to confirm that the pain and tenderness are located in your leg muscle (or its tendon) rather than in the shinbone itself. This is because symptoms of shin splints can be confused with the pain of a tibial stress fracture, a small stress-related break in the shinbone. A tibial stress fracture is another type of overuse injury that is common in athletes who run.
Other important problems that can occur along with shin splints or can mimic the symptoms of shin splints include a stretch or tear of a nearby muscle or tendon or inflammation of the bone surface (periostitis). Compartment syndrome, a rare condition in which pressure in a muscle group rises to a dangerous level, is another problem that may be considered, although the pain of compartment syndrome usually is more severe, is located on the outside of the leg and starts hours after exercise.
Under normal circumstances, a doctor does not need special diagnostic tests to confirm that you have shin splints. However, additional tests are sometimes necessary to check for a stress fracture. In this case, your doctor may order a bone scan, which is more sensitive than standard X-rays in differentiating between shin splints and a stress fracture. In rare cases, for example if your doctor suspects you may have compartment syndrome, you may need a test that measures the pressure within the muscle groups in the lower leg.
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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.
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