"Shin splints" is an informal way to describe pain in the shins. Shin splints typically happen in athletes who have changed their exercise regimen, resulting in overexertion of the lower leg muscles. Shin splints manifest as dull or stabbing pain in the shin bone. It's possible to prevent shin splints with proper rest, footwear, and low-impact exercise. Shin stretches are essential for preventing or treating shin splints.
What Are Shin Splints?
"Shin splints" is the common term for pain that occurs along your shin. The term doesn't refer to a specific injury but describes general pain around your shins. The most common cause of shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).
Causes of shin splints. Shin splints occur when the connective tissues that attach your calf muscles to your tibia are repeatedly stressed. The stress results in inflammation that gradually becomes more painful over time.
Athletes and military recruits most commonly develop shin splints. The main cause of shin splints is overuse, which can be worsened by:
- Insufficient recovery
- Improper footwear
- Poor flexibility
- Flat feet or high arches
Athletes who change their exercise duration, intensity, or frequency are more likely to develop shin splints.
Symptoms of shin splints. You may be experiencing shin splints if you notice:
- Tenderness or pain along your inner shinbone
- Swelling in your lower leg
- Pain that lessens or stops when resting
Contact a medical professional if you experience severe pain.
How to Prevent Shin Splints
You can take several steps to reduce your risk of developing shin splints.
Appropriate Footwear. Wearing the right shoes when exercising can significantly reduce your risk of developing shin splints. Running shoes should be replaced every 300 miles. Running shoes designed for shock absorption help reduce stress on your shinbone. You can consult an employee at a running shoe store to determine which shoe is best for you.
Using orthotic inserts in your shoes can reduce your chances of developing shin splints. Orthotic inserts support your foot's arch.
Use shin or calf support. You can wear compression sleeves during exercise to provide additional protection and support to your lower legs. A compression sleeve promotes circulation, which keeps your muscles warm and soothes inflamed muscles.
Low-impact exercise. You can add low-impact exercises to your regimen to reduce stress on your shins. Walking, swimming, or biking are great alternatives to running that provide many of the same benefits without the stress.
Gradually increase exercise duration and intensity. Allow your body to adjust to new exercises or physical activities gradually. You should increase the amount of time you exercise or the intensity level slowly, even for activities you do often.
Sufficient recovery time. Give your body enough time to rest between exercises. Rest allows inflammation to lessen to prevent further damage to the injured area. Applying ice to the tender area may also help reduce swelling and inflammation.
Stretching. Tight Achilles or calf muscles add stress to your lower legs and shin bones. Stretching after exercise can help prevent shin splints from developing.
Shin Splint Stretches
Shin stretches can help prevent or alleviate shin splints. Shin splint stretches target the calf muscles, which are the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. You can do these stretches before or after exercise.
Gastrocnemius stretch. This stretch targets the gastrocnemius, which is the larger calf muscle.
To begin the stretch, face a wall and brace your hands against it. Straighten out one leg and keep your heel pushed into the floor. Keep the other leg forward with the knee bent. Slowly turn your back foot slightly inward. You should feel the muscles in your lower leg stretch as you hold the position. Hold for 20 seconds, then stand straight and relax. Repeat three times for each leg.
Soleus stretch. This stretch targets the soleus, which is the smaller calf muscle.
Again, face the wall and brace your hands against it for balance. Bend the knee of your back leg toward the wall while keeping your heel flat on the floor. You should feel the muscles in your lower calf stretch as you hold the position for 30 seconds. Repeat three times for each leg.
Posterior leg stretch. This stretch requires a towel or a yoga strap. Lie on the ground and loop your towel or yoga strap around the ball of your foot. Raise your leg to the ceiling with your foot flexed. Keep your knee slightly bent as you hold this position for 60 seconds. Switch legs.
Tibialis anterior stretch. While standing, step your right foot back with the tops of your toes or shoe on the ground. Slowly shift your body weight forward until you feel a stretch in your shin. Hold the stretch for 60 seconds before switching legs.
Shin Splint Treatment
You can typically self-treat mild shin splints with:
- Taking a pain-reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen
You should consult a doctor if you have long-term or severe pain.