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How can I prevent shin splints?

Dr. Mike Clark, DPT
Fitness Specialist

Shin splints are frequently caused by the inability of the muscles in the lower body to effectively absorb the forces of impact when our feet hit the ground. To help your leg muscles become more resilient and reduce the likelihood of shin splints perform this simple 10 minute warm-up sequence 3 to 5x per week and/or before your runs:

Relax: find 1 to 3 tender spots per muscle and hold on each spot for at least 30 seconds

  • Calves
  • Outer thigh

Stretch: perform each stretch 1 to 3 times—holding each stretch for at least 30 seconds

  • Calves
  • 90/90 hamstring
  • Kneeling hip flexor

Wake-up your muscles: perform 1-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise

  • Floor bridge
  • Single-leg calf raise

Move: perform 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions

  • Single-leg balance with reach

To prevent shin splints, make sure you are working out in supportive shoes that fit well. In addition, you should run on softer surfaces, such as grass or cork tracks, instead of asphalt or concrete. Limit running on sloped surfaces and downhill, and ice your shins after running.

This answer provided for NATA by the King College Athletic Training Education Program.

There are definitely ways to prevent shin splints:

  1. Check your kicks. You may not be wearing proper footwear or your shoes might be as worn out as the socks in the back of your drawer. In some cases you may even need extra arch support. 
  2. Cross train. Include activities that aren’t as stressful on your shins. Swimming, walking, or biking may be great for you. 
  3. Add strength training to your work out regimen. Strengthening your calves and shins will help minimize the likelihood that you develop shin splints.
  4. Always warm up—do a slow then a moderate speed and intensity of the exercises you are to do before you do each.

To help prevent shin splints, engage in a pre-activity warm-up that includes foam rolling, stretching, and light activity that increases heart rate. 

There are a number of reasons as to why an individual suffers from shin splints. Shin splints can affect people who take up a new activity, such as jogging, sprinting, or playing sports that require quick starts and stops. The body is unfamiliar to new forces and these can place a heavy strain on the muscle that is located on the front side of the lower leg (anterior tibialis). Running downhill can place an even greater demand on the lower leg muscles as they struggle to keep the foot from slapping down.

Shin splints can also be caused by muscle imbalances in the leg and foot. A muscle imbalance can be in the form of a tight calf muscles versus a weak tibialis muscle. Imbalances in foot alignment, such as having flat or falling arches can also cause shin splints.

Before starting an activity, start with foam rolling muscles such as the calf, the muscles to the sides of the shins (anterior tibialis), the hamstrings, and the quads. This can help soften any existing knots. Purchase any full sized, round foam roller to start with. Next, stretch the muscles of the leg. Stretching can help lengthen tight muscles and increase range of motion in individuals who exhibit muscle imbalances. Finally, perform 1 set, 10 repetitions of 3 to 10 bodyweight exercises that take the joints through their full available range of motion. Examples of exercises to perform are squats with toe raises, lunges, arm circles, and/or jumping jacks.

Finally, take the time to slowly progress the intensity level of any new activity. Start new activities slowly and be mindful of performing movements with control. Over time, the body should be able to handle more intense activity with much more ease.

Here are a few ways to help you prevent shin splints: Do not over stride, strengthen you calf muscles with exercises, walk on softer surfaces, replace old shoes, and speed up only after warming up.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.