How can I prevent shin splints?

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.

It is much easier to prevent shin splints than it is to correct the issue after it becomes a problem. Shin splints are the inflammation of tendons and/or muscles of the shin (or the tibialis anterior muscle) usually caused by primarily running on your toes, on hard surfaces, or using low quality shoes—bringing increased force and shock to the area. The combination of a lower-body stretching program and the strengthening of the shin muscles should help you prevent and eliminate soreness. If you continue to feel pain, you should seek medical advise.

The shin muscle can be strengthened by sitting in a chair or standing against the wall and placing an ankle weight around your foot. After doing this, raise your leg off the floor while keeping your knee at a 90-degree angle. Raise your foot up and down towards both the ceiling and floor and you will feel the shin muscle engaged in the movement.

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.

Shin splints usually go away in 48 to 72 hours. Shin splints are normally caused by muscle imbalances between anterior tibialis and calve muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius), such as tight calves and a weak anterior tibialis. Flat feet, often the leading cause of shin splints, causes the anterior tibialis to become overstretched, weakened and inflamed. General treatments should be prescribed by a licensed health care practitioner such as:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Flexibility

Try non-weight bearing activity until you recover such as swimming, upper body ergometer and bicycling. Once you have received enough rest, you may begin light exercise to include foam rolling of the calves, IT band, quadriceps and Piriformis. Flexibility should follow, statically stretching the calves, and hip flexors. In addition, you should work on strengthening the anterior tibialis through resisted dorsiflexion and single-leg balance exercises. Make sure you also use the proper shoes for your feet when going for long walks, this can sometimes help.

Some people are more prone to getting shin splints than others, but a good pre-exercise stretching program is often helpful. Also, you should wear a good supportive running shoe and run on soft surfaces. You can also try to mix in lower impact activities such as swimming or biking to help take the stress off of your legs.

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 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.

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
Joel Harper - Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

Stretching your entire leg out. Always make sure your calves are open. Sit down on your heels with your knees together, so now the top of your feet and toenails are face down on the mat. Take your hands to your sides on the ground for support and slowly walk them back (so now they are on your sides) and one inch behind your feet. Lift your knees gently off the ground. If this is easy for you, while pulling your stomach in and hunching your shoulders forward bring your hands into prayer as long as it feels comfortable on your knees. Whenever you feel your legs are tight open them before you exercise, so that you don't exasperate your problem.

You can prevent shin splints by stretching and gaining strength in the front of the leg.

To help prevent shin splints, you want to foam roll your deep peroneals and tibialis anterior and calves. Then stretch them by sitting on the floor and pointing your toe (dorsiflex) and pull the toes up towards you (plantar flexion), then roll the foot from side to side. Only your foot will be moving, keep the rest of your leg still. Then rotate the foot in complete circles. For exercises calf raise and toe raises. If you have bands, you can start your toe raises with them.

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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.