Best Exercises for Shin Splints

May 12, 2024

Now that the weather is warming up, you may be thinking you’re ready to hit the road, track, or trail to run. However, if you’ve ever suffered with shin splints or are concerned about preventing them, we are here to help you. Shin splints are a common injury among runners and other athletes, causing pain and discomfort in the lower leg along the shin bone. They are often caused by overuse or improper form and can be a frustrating setback for those trying to stay active and fit. Fortunately, there are exercises and stretches that can help relieve the pain and discomfort of shin splints, and even better, prevent them from occurring in the first place. In this article, we will discuss the best exercises for shin splints and get you back on track with your fitness goals.

What Are Shin Splints?

Shin splints, also known as Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome, is a common injury that causes pain and discomfort in the lower leg. It can come on suddenly with a new routine, like with a first run of the season. It can happen when jump starting a new fitness program and doing too much too quickly as well. They can start out as a dull muscle ache near the shins in one or sometimes both lower legs and slowly progress to “shooting pain”. The pain usually occurs in the inner and lower 2/3rds of the tibia. Shin splints are often caused by overuse, such as running or jumping on hard surfaces, causing inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around the shinbone. They can also be caused by improper running or jumping form. There may be underlying muscular weakness or range of motion limitations that have come over time or from a previous injury which currently are affecting your running or jumping posture.

Why Are Shin Splints So Common?

Shin splints are a common injury among runners and athletes for several reasons and include:

  • Muscles and tendons in the lower leg are constantly working and can become overworked and inflamed with repetitive movements.
  • Many athletes and runners have poor form or do not properly warm up before exercising, which can put extra strain on the muscles and tendons in the lower leg.
  • Shin splints can also be caused by wearing improper footwear or running on hard surfaces, which can increase the impact on the lower leg and lead to inflammation and pain.
  • Adding running or jumping to your routine for the first time ever or after an injury without proper ramping up of the activity.
  • Not prioritizing strength training along with running.

The Best Exercises For Shin Splints

1. Half Kneel Ankle Stretch

Ankle mobility is an important part of any agility exercise, and it is especially important for preventing and relieving shin splints related to running and jumping activities. To stretch your ankle into increased dorsiflexion, begin in a half- kneeling position with your forward foot about a fists length away from the base of a wall. Shift your weight forward, pushing your knee toward the wall as far as you can, keeping your heel on the ground. Hold about 5 seconds, then relax and repeat 15-20 times.

Tip: Make sure to maintain your balance and move only through a pain free range of motion. Click here for video instructions.

2. Calf Raises

Calf raises are another great exercise for relieving shin splints and imbalances in strength between sides can indicate a problem. How many calf raises can you perform on each side? Is there a difference? Typically, you should be able to perform 25x on each side.

To perform this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, pick one foot off the ground bending the knee behind you and slowly raise up onto your toes, then lower back down. Once you find out how many reps you can do, perform 70% of your max for 3 sets. Make sure to rest 30 seconds to 1 minute in between sets. You should be reaching moderate muscle fatigue. Calf raises help to strengthen the muscles in your calves, which can help take some of the strain off the muscles in your lower leg and reduce pain and discomfort from shin splints.

Tip: If you get to 15 reps, then consider adding a dumbbell to increase the challenge. 5-15 lbs, lower the reps back down, and work up to 15 reps again. Click here for video instructions.

3. Tibialis Wall Raises

Toe taps are a simple and effective exercise to strengthen the dorsiflexors of the foot and ankle. To perform this exercise, stand against a wall with your feet about 6-12 inches away from the wall. Feet should flat on the ground. Lift your toes off the ground and tap them on the ground, keeping your heels planted. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps. This exercise helps to strengthen the muscles in the front of your lower leg, which can help alleviate pain and discomfort from shin splints. Click here for video instructions

4. Dead Bug Core Exercise

It is important to dress core strength and imbalances for any agility program as it can be a risk factor for lower extremity injuries. Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor tighten your abdominals, lift both legs to a 90° angle and your arms up toward the ceiling. Slowly lower one arm overhead and straighten your opposite leg at the same time. Return to the starting position and repeat with your other arm and leg. Perform 8-15 reps 2-3 sets. Click here for video instructions. Tip: make sure you keep your lower ribs and back flat on the floor during the exercise.

5. Double leg Woodpeckers

Begin standing with feet hip width apart, near a counter, chair or wall in case of balance loss. Leading with your upper body, gently lean forward until you feel your body weight shift toward the ball of your feet or your toes and before your heels pop up off the ground. Hold 5-10 seconds to reach mild to moderate muscle fatigue, return to the original position. Repeat 5-10 times. If holding is too challenging then slowly move forward and back 12-15 times for 2-3 sets. Click here for video instructions.

Other Tips for Relieving Shin Splints

In addition to these exercises, there are other steps you can take to relieve shin splints and prevent them from occurring in the future.

Wear Proper Footwear

Wearing proper footwear is crucial for preventing shin splints. Make sure your shoes fit well and provide enough support for your feet and ankles. If you have pain or discomfort right away just walking around in the shoe, do not run in them! If a shoe is not comfortable walking, it most likely will not be running. If you are a runner, consider getting fitted for running shoes at a specialty store and replace worn out sneakers – approximately every 350-500 miles.

Warm Up and Stretch Before Exercising

Warming up and stretching before exercising is important for preventing shin splints. Take a few minutes to jog in place or do some dynamic stretches to get your muscles warmed up and ready for activity.

Gradually Increase Activity Level and Take Active Rest and Recovery Days

Sudden changes in activity level can put extra strain on your muscles and tendons, leading to shin splints. If you are starting a new exercise routine, make sure to gradually increase your activity level to give your body time to adjust. Increase running miles or minutes no more than 10% a week and include rest and recovery days without running. Cross train to reduce load on lower legs and strengthen supporting muscles including core.

Massage and Ice

If you are experiencing pain and discomfort from shin splints, you may find relief from symptoms using a massage gun or foam roller on calves 30-60 seconds each area and equal amounts of rest time. Try rolling the bottom of your foot with a tennis ball or frozen plastic water bottle for 3-5 minutes. This will help reduce inflammation and promote healing.

When to See a Physical Therapist

In most cases, shin splints can be treated at home with rest and exercises. However, if your pain and discomfort persist or become severe, it is important to see your physical therapist. Your physical therapist can perform an evaluation to isolate how your muscles and movement patterns are contributing to the pain. A physical therapist can also talk to you about your current workout and address what can be tailored in order to keep you running and educate how past injuries may be contributing to your symptoms. A physical therapist can also assess your running form and discuss if you suffer from bad form due to over/or under pronation (rolling out on your ankles or flat feet) or some other musculoskeletal issue further up your leg or trunk.

The Bottom Line

Anyone who has experienced shin splints knows it can be a frustrating and painful injury. Don’t lose hope! With the right exercises and stretches, you can relieve the pain and discomfort and even prevent them from occurring in the future. Contact us today if you have any questions or if you’d like to discuss this topic further!