The 7 Best Stretches for Shin Splints
Sport & Activity
Learn how to prevent and manage shin splints with these simple stretches and lower-body strengthening moves.
Many runners have dealt with shin splints at some point—they're one of the most common overuse injuries in the sport. Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS), shin splints can be painful and may temporarily prevent you from reaching your goals.
Fortunately, whether you're a runner or not, there are preventative measures that can reduce your chances of developing shin splints in the first place. Aside from making workout modifications right when shin tenderness sets in (and making sure you're wearing well-fitting shoes), there are several stretches you can do to warm up lower-leg muscles before you work out. But first, let's unpack what shin splints are, as well as review the most common symptoms of the condition.
What Are Shin Splints?
Shin splints occur when both muscles and bones pull at the insertion of your shin (the tibia bone) and become inflamed. According to the Cleveland Clinic, shin splints usually develop from repeated stress from high-impact exercise, such as running, resulting in subsequent discomfort. Pain can vary among athletes, too. For some, symptoms of the injury include a dull or sharp ache in the lower leg that intensifies after a workout. For others, the discomfort may be subtle while working out but then turn into persistent pain soon after finishing.
There are a few potential causes of shin splints. For runners, some of the most common factors are increasing mileage or intensity too quickly, wearing shoes that are ill fitting or worn down, and running on hard surfaces. If treated correctly in the early stages—backing off from intense exercise and icing the affected areas often—shin splints will heal. However, if not given the right attention early on, the minor injury can reappear in future training cycles, or worse, turn into tibial stress fractures over time.
While runners are at high risk for shin splints, those who are active in general can get them. In fact, those who participate in sports (think gymnasts, dancers, even military recruits) or intense workout classes that involve repetitive high-impact moves or jumping, such as HIIT, can get shin splints. People with flat feet who overpronate or have very rigid foot arches are also at increased risk of shin splints.
Replacing your running shoes regularly will also help. Training in a pair of worn-down shoes can contribute to the problem, since once the cushioning diminishes, so does the support. And if you can avoid working out on hard surfaces—such as concrete or on a basketball court—that can also play a pivotal role in prevention. Lastly, stretching before you run can help you prevent or even manage shin splints when they arise.
The 7 Best Stretches for Shin Splints
There's evidence that suggests stretching the muscles in the lower leg can significantly help prevent shin splints. This includes the gastrocnemius (aka the calf), which is the large muscle on the back of your lower leg, and the soleus, which is the smaller muscle that lays underneath it. Stretching the front of the lower leg can help as well.
But you don't have to spend hours every week to prevent shin splints. In fact, just taking 10–15 minutes per day on a regular basis should help. But if you think you have shin splints, make sure you reach out to a physiotherapist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
1.Basic Calf Stretch
Start standing with the feet hip-distance apart, but with the right foot about a foot in front of the left. Stay upright and keep both heels on the floor. Then, bend both knees until you feel a stretch in both the calves and Achilles tendon. You're likely to feel it more on the back leg than on the front. Hold for 15–30 seconds and switch sides.
Start standing in the same position as above with the right foot slightly in front of the left. Now bend the knees while you turn the back foot down so that the top of the foot is on the floor and the heel and sole of the foot are facing up towards the ceiling. As you bend the knees further and sink into the stretch, you'll feel a stretch across the front of the back foot and ankle. Repeat on the other side.
3.Seated Toe Drag
This is a seated version of the toe drag. Ideal if you sit at a desk during the day, this stretch relaxes the tibialis anterior area. Simply place one foot slightly behind you on the side of the chair. Turn the top of the foot down and press to feel a stretch. Make sure you stretch both sides.
4.Heel-Drop Calf Stretch
Stand on a step or a slightly elevated surface. Make sure you hold onto something for extra stability the entire time. Slide the right foot back so that the heel drops down off the surface. Your left knee will bend to accommodate the stretch that you feel on the back of the right leg. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
5.Seated Calf Stretch
You may need a resistance band or towel for this stretch. Sit on a mat with your legs fully extended in front of you. Tilt the upper body forward and grab the top of your right foot, anchoring your hands at the ball of the foot. If you can't reach that far, use the band or the towel to loop around the foot and hold on to the ends. Now sit up tall and gently pull the top of the foot towards you. Hold for 15 seconds, then stretch the other side.
Start in a kneeling position with the body upright and the hips planted on top of your heels. The tops of your feet should face down (in contact with the mat or the floor). You may feel a stretch just keeping the body upright in this position. If not, you can lean back slightly to deepen the stretch across the tops of the feet and the front of the calves.
7.Low Runner's Lunge
Start standing and then take a big step forward with the right foot so that you land in a low-lunge position. Sink deeper into the stretch while lowering the chest onto the top of the right thigh. You'll feel a stretch through the ankle and the calf of the right leg. Hold for 15–30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Additional Tips and Exercises for Shin-Splint Prevention
Experts often advise strengthening the muscles in the lower leg in addition to doing shin-specific stretches to prevent or manage shin splints. Again, these exercises can be done daily in just a few minutes. Strengthening exercises can include:
- Toe taps: In a standing or seated position, begin with both feet resting on the floor. Now, lift just the toes of your right foot (keeping the heel on the floor) and tap them back down. Repeat and continue to tap the toes on one foot for 30 seconds to one minute. Then switch sides and tap the toes on the other foot.
- Heel raises: Standing tall, raise your heels off the floor slowly, hold for a second at the top, then lower down slowly. To make the exercise more challenging, drop the heels off of a step. Then lift and lower the heels with a greater range of motion.
- Heel walk: Before you start your run or exercise session, walk on your heels for a minute or two. Keep the toes off the ground while you walk.
- Toe walks: After walking on your heels, try walking on your toes while keeping the heels lifted.
Other ways to prevent shin splints include gradually increasing mileage by no more than 10 percent each week. For example, if you ran 30 miles the previous week, it may be wise to bump up to no more than 33 miles the following week. The same concept applies to the intensity of the runs as well. Consider working with a physiotherapist and a running coach to safely increase mileage and intensity as you train.
Also, if you do consult with a physiotherapist or related expert, ask if wearing compression socks could be helpful for you. Some studies have suggested that they may be helpful in the prevention and treatment of shin splints. Wearing shoes with proper arch support can also help to reduce the impact from running, especially on tough terrain.
When you do return to exercise, ease back into a routine gradually and with care. Make sure you back off on intensity and mileage if you start to feel pain again. And, when in doubt, reach out to a qualified physiotherapist for a personalised plan to get you back on your feet—literally.
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