Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome

Article Author:
Charles McClure

Article Editor:
Robert Oh

Editors In Chief:
Amie Kim
Todd May
Matthew Varacallo

Managing Editors:
Orawan Chaigasame
Carrie Smith
Abdul Waheed
Frank Smeeks
Kristina Soman-Faulkner
Benjamin Eovaldi
Radia Jamil
Sobhan Daneshfar
Saad Nazir
William Gossman
Pritesh Sheth
Hassam Zulfiqar
Navid Mahabadi
Steve Bhimji
John Shell
Matthew Varacallo
Ahmad Malik
Mark Pellegrini
James Hughes
Beata Beatty
Hajira Basit
Phillip Hynes

4/4/2019 11:43:28 AM


Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is a frequent overuse lower extremity injury in athletes and military personnel. MTSS is exercise-induced pain over the anterior tibia and is an early stress injury in the continuum of tibial stress fractures.[1] It has the layman's moniker of “shin splints.”[2]


Medial tibial stress syndrome is an overuse condition, specifically a tibial bony overload injury with associated periostitis, that clinicians commonly encounter in participants of recurrent impact exercise, such as running and jumping athletics as well as in military personnel.[3]


The incidence of medial tibial stress syndrome ranges between 13.6% to 20% in runners and up to 35% in military recruits. Significant increasing loads, volume and high impact exercises can predispose to MTSS and further bone stress injury.  Intrinsic risk factors include increases in the female gender, previous history of MTSS, high BMI, navicular drop (a measure of arch height and foot pronation), ankle plantar flexion range of motion, and hip external rotation range of motion.[2][4][5]  Studies in military basic training recruits have linked vitamin D deficiency to an increased risk of stress injury.[6]


The underlying pathophysiologic process resulting in MTSS is related to unrepaired microdamage accumulation in the cortical bone of the distal tibia. There is typically an overlying periostitis at the site of bony injury, which also correlates with the tendinous attachments of the soleus, flexor digitorum longus, and posterior tibialis. Given the mechanical connection of Sharpey’s fiber’s, which are perforating fibers of connective tissue linking periosteum to the bone, the belief is that repetitive muscle traction may be the underlying cause of the periostitis and cortical microtrauma. However, it remains unclear if periostitis occurs before cortical microtrauma or vice versa.[3][7]

History and Physical

In the evaluation of lower extremity pain, reliable diagnosis of medial tibial stress syndrome is via history and physical examination.

Information elicited during history taking that supports MTSS includes:

  1. Presence of exercise-induced pain along the distal two-thirds of the medial tibial border
  2. Presence of pain provoked during or after physical activity, which reduces with relative rest
  3. The absence of cramping, burning pain over the posterior compartment &/or numbness/tingling in the foot

Physical examination should include palpation and inspection of the lower extremity. Physical exam findings that support MTSS include:

  1. Presence of recognizable pain reproduced with palpation of the posteromedial tibial border > 5 cm
  2. The absence of other findings not typical of MTSS (e.g., severe swelling, erythema, loss of distal pulses, etc.)

If the above components are present, then the diagnosis of MTSS can reliably be made. If the above components of history and physical examination are not present, MTSS is unlikely the cause of the lower extremity pain and suspicion and investigation should focus on a different cause of lower extremity pain.[8]


Medial tibial stress syndrome is a clinical diagnosis and can be reliably made by history and physical examination findings. However, imaging is often performed if uncertain of etiology or to rule out other common exercise-induced lower extremity injuries.  In particular, the situation warrants imaging if concerned for a more significant tibial stress injury. Plain radiographs are normal in patients with MTSS and are often normal with an early stress fracture. Radiograph findings of the "dreaded black line" is indicative of stress fracture.  MRI is the preferred imaging modality for identifying MTSS as well as a higher grade bone stress injury such as a tibial stress fracture. Nuclear bone scans are a reasonable alternative but are less specific and sensitive than MRI. MRI findings include periosteal edema and bone marrow edema. Nuclear bone scans demonstrate increased radionuclide uptake in the cortical bone with characteristic “double stripe” pattern. High-resolution CT is another viable advanced imaging option, but with lower sensitivity than MRI or nuclear bone scan.[3][4]  Evaluating for vitamin D deficiency may also be warranted, especially for recalcitrant cases.

Treatment / Management

Management of medial tibial stress syndrome is conservative, mainly focusing on rest and activity modification with less repetitive, load-bearing exercise. There are no specific recommendations on the duration of rest required for resolution of symptoms, and it is likely variable depending on the individual. Additional therapies that have shown beneficial effect with low-quality evidence include iontophoresis, phonophoresis, ice massage, ultrasound therapy, periosteal pecking, and extracorporeal shockwave therapy. Therapies that have yielded no benefit include low-energy laser therapy, stretching, strengthening exercises, lower leg braces, and compression stockings. Regarding prevention, a recent study on naval recruits showed prefabricated orthotics reduced MTSS.[9][10][11]

For recalcitrant cases with a limited or slow response to rest and activity modification, optimizing calcium and vitamin D status and gait retraining may improve recovery and prevent further progression of the injury.[12][13]

Differential Diagnosis

Given the location on the lower extremity, the differential diagnosis includes the following: tibial stress fracture, chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS), and vascular etiologies (e.g., functional popliteal artery entrapment syndrome, peripheral arterial disease, etc.).

Tibial stress fractures can be difficult to distinguish from MTSS and are likely part of the same continuum of tibial bone stress injury.  Anterior cortex stress fractures are more common than posteromedial tibial stress fractures and are distinguished by point tenderness (<5 cm) along the tibia. Radiographs may reveal the "dreaded black line," and MRI can help determine the severity of the stress injury.[1]

Chronic exertional compartment syndrome (CECS) is considered a disorder of muscular origin and presents similarly with exercise-induced lower extremity pain that is also diffusely located. It often involves both extremities, relieved by rest, and may have additional symptoms such as paresthesias, pallor, cold skin temperature, and loss of pulses in the distal lower extremity. CECS diagnosis is made by measuring intramuscular compartment pressures.

Functional popliteal artery entrapment syndrome (FPAES) and peripheral arterial disease (PAD) both manifest as claudication. FPAES is thought to be due to anatomic variations or hypertrophy of the musculature in the popliteal fossa leading to popliteal artery compression with increased activity. FPAES diagnosis is by stress arteriography. PAD is often due to atherosclerosis and is diagnosed by arteriography or Doppler ultrasound examination.[10]


Full recovery is expected with adequate rest and activity modification. 


Acute complications for athletes and military personnel include pain leading to decreased performance and/or time away from training/participation. The presumption is that medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) may progress to a tibial stress fracture, as cortical microtrauma may evolve into cortical fracture. However not every patient that experiences MTSS develops a tibial stress fracture.[3][4]  Severe tibial stress fractures may require surgical intervention.

Deterrence and Patient Education

By definition, medial tibial stress syndrome is a stress reaction to the tibia as a result of overuse. Therefore, deterrence focuses on patient education of proper biomechanics and graded exercise regimen as well as avoiding overtraining. Optimizing vitamin D and calcium has shown to reduce the incidence of stress fractures in military recruits and should be a consideration. Athletes and military personnel would benefit from instructor awareness of MTSS and the necessity of properly scaled training programs with adequate recovery time.

Pearls and Other Issues

 In recalcitrant cases that do not resolve with adequate rest and conservative management, the clinician should consider optimizing vitamin D status and consider gait retraining.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

Medial tibial stress syndrome is a common exercise-induced lower extremity injury. The clinician can reliably diagnose MTSS by history and physical. However, advanced imaging with MRI (preferred) or nuclear bone scan can help rule out tibial stress fracture if concern remains. Management focuses on rest and activity medication, with some alternative therapies yielding low-quality evidence for a beneficial effect. In addition to rest and activity modification, further evaluation by a physical therapist or rehabilitation nurse may be beneficial for a trial of alternative therapies as well as structural analysis for contributing anatomic risk factors.

  • Image 8486 Not availableImage 8486 Not available
    Image courtesy S Bhimji MD
Attributed To: Image courtesy S Bhimji MD

Interested in Participating?

We are looking for contributors to author, edit, and peer review our vast library of review articles and multiple choice questions. In as little as 2-3 hours you can make a significant contribution to your specialty. In return for a small amount of your time, you will receive free access to all content and you will be published as an author or editor in eBooks, apps, online CME/CE activities, and an online Learning Management System for students, teachers, and program directors that allows access to review materials in over 500 specialties.

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor

This is an academic project designed to provide inexpensive peer-reviewed Apps, eBooks, and very soon an online CME/CE system to help students identify weaknesses and improve knowledge. We would like you to consider being an author or editor. Please click here to learn more. Thank you for you for your interest, the StatPearls Publishing Editorial Team.

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome - Questions

Take a quiz of the questions on this article.

Take Quiz
A 17-year-old female presents with the complaint of right leg pain. She enjoys reading, playing soccer, and dancing. She states that the pain is worse with dancing and running and improves with rest. The clinician diagnosis her with medial tibial stress syndrome. What are her physical exam findings?

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up
A 19-year-old male military recruit at basic training presents with left lower extremity pain that manifested after a weekend of high-mileage marching. He described the pain as worse with activity and improved with rest. The physical exam is notable for significant tenderness along 5.9 cm of the posteromedial border of the tibia. After he is diagnosed with medial tibial stress syndrome, he remarks that he has had this in the past. What blood test should be ordered?

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up
A 31-year-old overweight metal worker presents to clinic with bilateral lower extremity pain with exertion that began a few weeks after starting to train for her first marathon. She describes the pain as severe, sharp, and located along the posteromedial border. She has diffuse tenderness greater than 5.0 cm along bilateral lower extremities, but there is a specific point of severe tenderness on the right lower extremity that is worrisome for a tibial stress fracture. Plain radiograph in the clinic indicates no obvious fracture. MRI is contemplated but the patient has worked with metal and has shavings in her orbit. What is the next best advanced imaging modality for this patient?

Click Your Answer Below

Would you like to access teaching points and more information on this topic?

Improve Content - Become an Author or Editor and get free access to the entire database, free eBooks, as well as free CME/CE as it becomes available. If interested, please click on "Sign Up" to register.

Purchase- Want immediate access to questions, answers, and teaching points? They can be purchased above at Apps and eBooks.

Sign Up

Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome - References


Yates B,White S, The incidence and risk factors in the development of medial tibial stress syndrome among naval recruits. The American journal of sports medicine. 2004 Apr-May;     [PubMed]
Franklyn M,Oakes B, Aetiology and mechanisms of injury in medial tibial stress syndrome: Current and future developments. World journal of orthopedics. 2015 Sep 18;     [PubMed]
Moen MH,Tol JL,Weir A,Steunebrink M,De Winter TC, Medial tibial stress syndrome: a critical review. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 2009;     [PubMed]
Hamstra-Wright KL,Bliven KC,Bay C, Risk factors for medial tibial stress syndrome in physically active individuals such as runners and military personnel: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine. 2015 Mar;     [PubMed]
Winters M,Burr DB,van der Hoeven H,Condon KW,Bellemans J,Moen MH, Microcrack-associated bone remodeling is rarely observed in biopsies from athletes with medial tibial stress syndrome. Journal of bone and mineral metabolism. 2018 Jul 31;     [PubMed]
Winters M,Bakker EWP,Moen MH,Barten CC,Teeuwen R,Weir A, Medial tibial stress syndrome can be diagnosed reliably using history and physical examination. British journal of sports medicine. 2018 Oct;     [PubMed]
Winters M,Eskes M,Weir A,Moen MH,Backx FJ,Bakker EW, Treatment of medial tibial stress syndrome: a systematic review. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 2013 Dec;     [PubMed]
Lohrer H,Malliaropoulos N,Korakakis V,Padhiar N, Exercise-induced leg pain in athletes: diagnostic, assessment, and management strategies. The Physician and sportsmedicine. 2018 Oct 22;     [PubMed]
Bonanno DR,Murley GS,Munteanu SE,Landorf KB,Menz HB, Effectiveness of foot orthoses for the prevention of lower limb overuse injuries in naval recruits: a randomised controlled trial. British journal of sports medicine. 2018 Mar;     [PubMed]
Kiel J,Kaiser K, Stress Reaction and Fractures . 2018 Jan     [PubMed]
Ruohola JP,Laaksi I,Ylikomi T,Haataja R,Mattila VM,Sahi T,Tuohimaa P,Pihlajamäki H, Association between serum 25(OH)D concentrations and bone stress fractures in Finnish young men. Journal of bone and mineral research : the official journal of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. 2006 Sep     [PubMed]
Tenforde AS,Sayres LC,Sainani KL,Fredericson M, Evaluating the relationship of calcium and vitamin D in the prevention of stress fracture injuries in the young athlete: a review of the literature. PM & R : the journal of injury, function, and rehabilitation. 2010 Oct     [PubMed]
Barton CJ,Bonanno DR,Carr J,Neal BS,Malliaras P,Franklyn-Miller A,Menz HB, Running retraining to treat lower limb injuries: a mixed-methods study of current evidence synthesised with expert opinion. British journal of sports medicine. 2016 May     [PubMed]


The intent of StatPearls is to provide practice questions and explanations to assist you in identifying and resolving knowledge deficits. These questions and explanations are not intended to be a source of the knowledge base of all of medicine, nor is it intended to be a board or certification review of Sports Medicine. The authors or editors do not warrant the information is complete or accurate. The reader is encouraged to verify each answer and explanation in several references. All drug indications and dosages should be verified before administration.

StatPearls offers the most comprehensive database of free multiple-choice questions with explanations and short review chapters ever developed. This system helps physicians, medical students, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, and allied health professionals identify education deficits and learn new concepts. StatPearls is not a board or certification review system for Sports Medicine, it is a learning system that you can use to help improve your knowledge base of medicine for life-long learning. StatPearls will help you identify your weaknesses so that when you are ready to study for a board or certification exam in Sports Medicine, you will already be prepared.

Our content is updated continuously through a multi-step peer review process that will help you be prepared and review for a thorough knowledge of Sports Medicine. When it is time for the Sports Medicine board and certification exam, you will already be ready. Besides online study quizzes, we also publish our peer-reviewed content in eBooks and mobile Apps. We also offer inexpensive CME/CE, so our content can be used to attain education credits while you study Sports Medicine.