Nagging or stabbing pain in the shin due to shin splints

Nagging or stabbing pain in your shin or both shins could indicate shin splints. The term ‘shin splints’ is used to describe a number of conditions affecting the shins. Runners are especially susceptible to shin splints or shin pain. After running, you experience sharp or stabbing pain at the front of your lower legs, which is caused by overload of the place where that muscle attaches to the shin bone. Runners can experience shin splints after increasing their exercise intensity or changing the surface they run on. Shin splints are also common in dancers. Sufficient rest and cooling are often sufficient to be free of complaints within 4-6 weeks.

  • Shin pain due to shin splints
  • Causes of shin pain due to shin splints
  • Overload and other causes
  • Triggering factors
  • Tired leg muscles and tendons
  • Symptoms: nagging or stabbing shin pain
  • When to consult the doctor?
  • Examination and diagnosis
  • Physical examination and anamnesis
  • Visual art investigation
  • Treatment of shin splints
  • Sufficient rest
  • Measures
  • Shockwave therapy
  • Can shin splints be prevented?

Shin pain in basketball / Source: Tpsdave, Pixabay

Shin pain due to shin splints

The term ‘shin splints’ describes a feeling of pain along the inner edge of your shin bone. Shin splints is also known as ‘periosteum inflammation’. The pain is concentrated in the lower leg between the knee and ankle. Shin splints often occur in people who engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity. You are more likely to develop shin splints if you do strenuous physical activities, are an (avid) runner or walker, or frequently participate in ‘stop-start sports’ such as tennis, squash, football or basketball. Sometimes the pain from shin splints is so intense that you have to stop activity.

Causes of shin pain due to shin splints

Overload and other causes

Shin splints are caused by overuse of the place where the muscle is attached to the shin bone, mainly due to overpronation, a common foot problem that affects 60 to 70% of the population. It involves swinging your foot in too much when landing your foot on the ground. Previous leg injuries or injuries can also contribute to shin splints. Other causes of shin splints include:

  • an anatomical abnormality (such as flat feet, feet that are tilted inward or leg length difference);
  • muscle weakness in the thighs or buttocks;
  • instability or weakness of the ankle; and

The wrong running shoes can trigger shin pain / Source: Pexels, Pixabay

  • incorrect training techniques.

Triggering factors

The following factors can trigger the complaints:

  • running downhill;
  • training build-up too fast;
  • walking on hard or irregular surfaces;
  • wearing the wrong running shoes;
  • exercising too intensively or too often;
  • participating in sports that have quick stops and starts.

Tired leg muscles and tendons

Shin splints can also occur more quickly when your leg muscles and tendons are tired. Athletes, military recruits, and dancers have an increased risk of developing shin splints.

Symptoms: nagging or stabbing shin pain

People with shin splints may experience the following symptoms:

  • a sharp or stabbing pain in the middle or lower part of the shin;
  • the pain can radiate to the knee or ankle;
  • a slight swelling may occur at the site;
  • the pain mainly occurs when putting down and pushing off the foot; and
  • At rest the pain often subsides or becomes somewhat aching in nature (nagging shin pain).

General practitioner with patient / Source:

When to consult the doctor?

Consult your doctor if the complaints persist or if you suffer from one of the following symptoms:

  • severe pain in your shin after a fall or accident;
  • a shin that feels warm to the touch;
  • a shin bone that is visibly inflamed;
  • swelling in your shin gets worse;
  • pain in your shins even when at rest.

Examination and diagnosis

Physical examination and anamnesis

The GP will usually be able to diagnose shin splints during a physical examination. The doctor will also ask questions about the complaints you experience and about the types of physical activities you do and whether you also suffer from complaints and, if so, to what extent.

Visual art investigation

The doctor may order diagnostic tests, such as imaging tests, for example X-rays or ultrasound examinations, if it is suspected that there is a bone fracture or other conditions in place of shin splints

Swimming is not stressful on your shins / Source: Jarmoluk, Pixabay

Treatment of shin splints

Sufficient rest

Shin splints normally require you to stop doing certain physical activities to give your legs some time to rest. The complaints usually disappear completely within a few hours or at most a few days with rest and limited activity. Full recovery can take 4 to 6 weeks. Rest in combination with regular cooling with ice is often sufficient to treat shin complaints. During this time, you can participate in sports or activities that are less stressful on your shins, such as swimming.


You can treat shin splints by getting enough rest, keeping your legs elevated, regularly cooling with ice (do not apply directly to your shin) to reduce swelling and by taking painkillers such as paracetamol. In addition, it is important to purchase good running shoes with sufficient cushioning and, if necessary, to use insoles in case of a foot deformity. After you have recovered, it is wise to gradually increase your training. Train on a soft surface.

Walking barefoot is better for your shins / Source: Unsplash, Pixabay

Shockwave therapy

If the above measures do not provide sufficient relief, shockwave therapy may be required. With this form of treatment you are exposed to ‘shock waves’, which are precisely aimed at the affected area.

Can shin splints be prevented?

Steps you can take to prevent shin splints from developing include:

  • wearing well-fitting shoes with sufficient support;
  • the use of shock-absorbing soles;
  • avoiding exercises on hard or slanted surfaces or uneven terrain;
  • gradually increasing training intensity;
  • warm-up before training;
  • strength training, in particular toe exercises to strengthen the calf muscles;
  • do not continue exercising if you are in pain;
  • walking barefoot.

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