Healthy Living

How Are Shin Splints Diagnosed?

How Are Shin Splints Diagnosed?

Shin splints are very common among athletes and those who carry out medium to high-intensity workouts. It is also known as the medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). Shin splints are usually painful during exercise, but with time and without the proper treatment, the pain will continue to persist even on resting.

Heavy strenuous activities or high-intensity sports will add an extra load to your leg muscles and shin bone causing them to swell. Therefore, there will be an increased pressure applied against the bone. This pressure eventually results in an inflammatory reaction, which causes the pain in your shin bone.

The typical symptoms of a shin splint are pain over the lateral aspect of the leg, swelling of the leg, muscular pain, and numbness of the foot. Experienced doctors can easily diagnose the condition by knowing the patient's history and conducting a physical examination. Investigations can also be used in the diagnosis of shin splints, but an MRI scan is the most effective of all.


When you first consult a doctor, he/she will initially take a detailed history regarding the symptoms you have. The questions he or she might ask you at the appointment are:

  • Where is the exact pain located?
  • Is the pain persisting even at rest?
  • What kind of physical activities do you involve yourself in?
  • What is your training schedule?
  • What type of footwear do you use for training?
  • Did you recently begin a new sport that requires running or jumping?
  • Do you do sports like tennis, basketball, racquetball, or soccer?
  • Is this your first time to experience such pain?

Your doctor will be careful in diagnosing a shin splint to make sure that you are actually having a shin splint and not a stress fracture or a compartment syndrome. He/she will ask you various questions to exclude these two conditions before making a diagnosis of shin splints.

Physical examination

During the physical examination, your doctor will check where your leg actually hurts. He or she may move your ankle a bit in different positions and will also tell you to push your foot against the doctor’s pressure. By stretching the muscles of the leg and by feeling where they attach to, the doctor can tell where the problem is coming from.


An X-ray of your leg will be ordered by your doctor to exclude the possibility of a stress fracture. However, stress fractures do not appear on an X-ray within the first week of the injury. Therefore, a bone scan will be ordered.

Your doctor may also order a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI scan) to visualize your tendons as well as the bones of your leg. An MRI scan is a radiological imaging test that uses magnetic waves to create an image of the part of the body that is being scanned. The image is produced in slices. It is a painless test.

In order to find out the cause of your shin splints, your doctor may measure the pressure of your aching leg. The compartment pressure is measured before and after you exercise.