If you have shin splints, you may benefit from physical therapy to help decrease your shin pain, improve your tibialis anterior strength and mobility, and return to full functional mobility. There are many different treatments for shin splints including kinesiology tape, anterior tibial stretching, and strengthening exercises for your shin and ankle. Your physical therapist can assess your specific situation to determine if your shin pain is truly shin splints, and he or she can prescribe the best treatment for you.
One common question that patients with shin splints have is, "How long with my shin splints last?" When the pain in your shins limits your ability to walk or run the way you want to, it may seem like that your shin splints may never go away. Rest assured that with the proper treatment, you can be free of shin pain and return to your normal function and activity in a relatively short period of time. With enough practice, you can even prevent them from coming back.
The Basics of Tissue Healing
In order to understand how long it takes to get rid of shin splints, it often helps to understand how your body heals. The inflammatory process is the way your body manages injured muscle tissue and helps it return to normal function.1
The initial stage of the inflammatory process lasts for 3 to 7 days. The hallmark of this stage is constant, sharp pain. This is due to the chemical reactions that occur in the muscle tissue once repetitive strain and stress injure the muscle. Your shin splints are caused by repetitive strain to your tibialis anterior muscle. When this muscle was first injured, the initial injury likely felt like sharp, constant pain in the front of your shin.2
The next 3 to 4 weeks of the inflammation process is one where your body helps to heal the tissue. Special cells are brought in to your anterior tibial muscle to help clean up the mess that the injury caused. Collagen, the building cells of muscle and tendon tissue, is laid down during this phase.
The final phase of the inflammatory process is the tissue remodeling phase.1 During this phase, the collagen tissue that was laid down in the previous phase must be stretched and strengthened so that it can tolerate the forces and stressors that it may encounter in the future. This phase lasts approximately 2 to 4 weeks.
If you add up all the time it takes to heal injured tissue in your body, then it would take approximately 7 to 9 weeks. Most cases of shin splints last about that long as well.
Why Is My Condition Lasting Longer?
Some people experience shin splints that last longer than 8 or 9 weeks. This may occur if you return to the aggravating activity before your anterior tibial muscle is ready to accept the stressors that it encounters. That is why it is so important to appropriately rest and recover after injury and work hard in physical therapy to correct the biomechanical faults that are causing your problem.
Some treatments to consider to ensure that you effectively treat your shin splints include:
Anterior tibialis stretching exercises
Kinesiology taping to your anterior tibialis
Strengthening exercises of the ankle and lower extremity
Hip strengthening exercises
Calf stretching exercises
Shin splints can be a difficult problem to treat, and it requires guidance from your PT so you perform the appropriate amount of rest, stretching, and strengthening for your condition.2
Bottom line: expect to deal with your shin splints for about 2 months, but this may be longer if you do not adequately rest and recover or shorter if your specific condition is minor and responds well to treatment.