Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, are the most common cause of lower-leg pain in athletes. Experts suspect shin splints affect anywhere from 5% to 35% of all runners. 1 Newman P, Witchalls J, Waddington G, Adams R. Risk factors associated with medial tibial stress syndrome in runners: a systematic review and meta-analysis . (Abstract only.) Open Access J Sports Med. 2013 Nov 13;4:229-241. eCollection 2013. Review. PubMed PMID: 24379729; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3873798.

“Shin splints” is an umbrella term that refers to a number of conditions that cause diffuse pain along the inside shin. These conditions include injury to:

  • Calf muscles, such as the soleus, tibialis posterior, or flexor digitorum longus.
  • The crural fascia, a thin, fibrous tissue that envelopes muscle in the lower leg.
  • The periosteum, a connective tissue that covers the shin bone. Inflammation of the periosteum is called periostitis.

“Medial tibia” is the medical term for the inside of the shin. Pain is typically felt in the bottom 2/3 of the medial tibia.

Other causes of lower leg pain in athletes include tibial stress fractures, exertional compartment syndrome, and entrapment of the popliteal artery. These medical conditions are considered serious and require medical attention.

See All About Stress Fractures


To find out whether an athlete’s symptoms are typical of shin splints or a more serious medical condition, read Stress Fracture Symptoms .

Dr. Robert Wilder is a sports medicine physician serving as Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and as Medical Director of The Runner’s Clinic and the UVA SPEED Clinic Motion Analysis Lab. He also directs the Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship Program.