What causes shin pain?
Shin pain may be caused by shin splints or other inflammatory processes, infections of the skin or deeper tissues, chronic conditions that damage the peripheral nerves, conditions of the spine, vascular disease, and rarely, tumors of bone or soft tissue.
Musculoskeletal causes of shin pain
Shin pain may be caused by inflammation or damage to your muscles and bones including:
- Anterior compartment syndrome of the lower leg
- Bone fracture
- Shin splints
- Stress fracture of the tibia (shin bone)
- Tendonitis (inflammation of one or more leg muscle tendons)
Infectious causes of shin pain
Infections can also cause shin pain. Examples include:
- Cellulitis (infection of the skin and surrounding tissues)
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
Spinal causes of shin pain
Conditions that affect the spinal cord, the backbone (vertebrae), or the nerves that exit from the spinal cord can all cause pain, burning, numbness, weakness, or a tingling sensation along the course of the nerve that is affected. Examples include:
- Arthritis affecting the spine
- Degenerative joint disease
- Herniated disc
- Spinal cord injury or tumor
- Spinal degeneration (degenerative disc disease, also called spondylosis)
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal, creating pressure on the spinal cord or nerves)
Vascular causes of shin pain
Conditions that affect the blood vessels may be a cause of shin pain including:
- Deep vein thrombosis (clots in the blood vessels of the leg)
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD, also called peripheral vascular disease, or PVD, which is a narrowing or blockage of arteries due to a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls, which limits blood flow to the extremities)
- Varicose veins
Neurologic causes of shin pain
Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord) causes a painful, burning or tingling sensation medically known as paresthesia. Diabetes and alcohol abuse are two common causes of peripheral neuropathy. Causes of shin pain associated with nerve damage include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Diabetes mellitus
- HIV infection
- Nerve entrapment or compression
- Peripheral neuropathy (disorder that causes dysfunction of nerves that lie outside your brain and spinal cord) due to all causes
Serious or life-threatening causes of shin pain
In some cases, shin pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
- Malignant tumors of bone or soft tissue
- Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of shin pain
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your shin pain including:
- How long have you felt your shin pain?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- Is your shin pain the result of an injury?
- Does anything relieve or worsen the pain?
- Does your shin pain persist with rest?
What are the potential complications of shin pain?
Because shin pain can sometimes be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage.
You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of shin pain may include:
- Absenteeism from work or school
- Adverse effects of treatment
- Decreased athletic performance
- Nerve problems that cause pain, numbness or tinglingPermanent or chronic pain
- Physical disability
- Progression of symptoms
- Spread of infection
- Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
- Shin splints. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00407.
- Shin splints. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000654.htm.
- Fields KB, Sykes JC, Walker KM, Jackson JC. Prevention of running injuries. Curr Sports Med Rep 2010; 9:176.
- Harrast MA, Colonno D. Stress fractures in runners. Clin Sports Med 2010; 29:399.
What is shin pain?
Shin pain is pain that occurs along the shin bone (tibia) in the front part of the lower leg. The shin extends all the way from the knee to the ankle. One common cause of shin pain is shin splints, a term to describe pain that results from overuse or participation in sports involving running or other impact on the foot. Shin splints arise from inflammation of the muscles and other soft tissues ... Read more about shin painintroduction
What other symptoms might occur with shin pain?
Shin pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that cause shin pain can sometimes involve other body systems.
Leg symptoms that may occur along with shin painShin pain may accompany other symptoms affecting your leg including:
- Drainage of pus
- Read more about shin painsymptoms