If you’ve ever wondered whether you should be practicing shin splint stretches, consider the following scenario and tips for how to recover from shin splints.
Whew! You’re finally done with that brutal three-mile run. As you walk up the driveway, sweaty and out of breath, you feel shooting pains in your lower legs. You reach down and touch your shin. It hurts like a bruise. What gives?
Also known by the medical term medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints involve sharp, shooting pain in the lower legs. They’re extremely common sports injuries in runners – especially newbies. This type of injury is caused by continuous stress on the lower leg muscles, which leads to inflammation where the muscles attach to the shin bone.
Common warning signs of shin splints include:
- Soreness in the lower leg
- Tenderness over an area that is at least one inch in length
- Aching, throbbing pain in the front lower leg
- At first, pain occurs only after running; but can develop to occur while running, also.
If you think you might have shin splints, a medical professional can perform an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other potential causes of leg pain. Shin splint recovery usually involves a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medicine, icing, and shin splint exercises. Getting an assessment from a running professional for new shoes may also be in order.
Shin Splint Stretches & Exercises for Relief
Lower leg stretches and heel walking can help you manage your shin splints and get you back on track. Here are a few stretches for shin splints to try:
Standing calf stretch
- Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at eye level.
- Keep your injured leg back with your heel on the floor.
- Keep the other leg forward with the knee bent.
- Turn your back foot slightly inward, as if you were pigeon-toed.
- Slowly lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Return to the starting position. Repeat three times. Do this exercise several times each day.
Standing toe raise
- Stand with your feet flat on the floor.
- Rock back onto your heels and lift your toes off the floor.
- Hold for five seconds and then put your toes back on the floor. Do two sets of 15.
- Sit on a hard surface with your injured leg stretched out in front of you.
- Loop a towel around your toes and the ball of your foot and pull the towel toward your body keeping your leg straight.
- Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat 3 times.
Anterior compartment stretch
- Stand sideways next to a wall or chair with your injured leg further from the wall or chair.
- Rest one hand on the wall or chair for balance.
- Bend the knee of your injured leg and lean forward to grab the front of your foot.
- Bend the front of the foot toward your heel. You should feel a stretch in the front of your shin.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
Kneeling shin stretch
- Get into a tabletop position with your hands and knees on the ground. Place a foam roller under the tops of your feet.
- To increase the stretch, sit back on your hips toward your heels. You can sit back as far as you want depending on the degree of stretch you like.
- Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds and then return to all fours.
Seated shin stretch
- Sit in a chair, toward the edge with your ankles in line with your knees.
- Take your left ankle and place it on top of your right knee.
- Place your right hand on top of your left foot, along your toe knuckles. Gently press down on the foot to straighten out your ankle and feel a comfortable stretch in your shin and foot.
- Hold your stretch for 10-15 seconds and then relax. Repeat this five times on both feet.
Achilles tendon standing stretch
- Stand near a wall at approximately an arm's length away.
- Lean forward and place both hands on the wall, shoulder-width apart.
- Extend one of your feet back and place the heel flat on the floor, keeping the other foot closer to the wall.
- Learn forward and press down on the back heel with your knee bent slightly.
- Lower your hips slightly to increase the stretch. Avoid bending at the waist.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds at a time, and repeat 1-4 times per leg.
What are shin splints? How can you tell if you have them?
Shin splints are a common overuse injury. They occur when the muscles and connective tissues in the leg begin to tug at the bone and become painfully inflamed.
This injury is most common among athletes as a result of repeated stress on the lower legs. However, anyone can experience shin splints.
Among the most common ways to recognize a shin splint is an aching of the lower legs that worsens after exercise. The pain may be sharp or dull and may come and go. While shin splints themselves aren’t a serious medical condition, it’s always best to visit your healthcare provider to receive a proper diagnosis and rule out a stress fracture. Either way, shin stretches are in your future.
How long is shin splint recovery?
Shin splints are annoying, but not permanent. Proper treatment, including rest, changing exercise regimens, shin splint stretches and improving your footwear, are essential steps to promote recovery. You should call your doctor if your shin splint pain doesn’t go away after a few weeks of rest and practicing stretches for shin splints.
Shin splint prevention tips
You may not be able to prevent shin splints, but there are some ways that you can minimize your risk of developing them or making them worse. These include:
- Choose supportive athletic shoes and replace running shoes every 300 miles. Consider orthotic inserts to support your arches. Both of these things can fit correctly to your feet at a running store.
- Increase physical activity, especially running, slowly over time rather than making a sudden jump into a new routine.
- Stretch your muscles before exercising to help warm them up and prevent overuse injuries.
- Run and exercise on softer surfaces, like grass or a gym mat, rather than concrete.
- If you run a lot, consider switching up your exercise routine with other low-impact cross-training options like swimming. This helps provide time for muscle recovery.
- Never push through the pain. Instead, reduce your activity level and take a rest whenever needed.
Other Causes Of Leg Pain
While shin splints are common, there may be other causes of lower leg pain that create similar symptoms. Some of these include:
- Stress fractures: These are commonly caused by repetitive, excessive loads to the bone when paired with inadequate rest.
- Fractures: Fractures in the lower leg can occur as a result of both endurance and contact sports like soccer.
- Compartment syndrome: During exercise, the muscles in the lower front of the legs swell with blood, but there’s a limit on how much expansion can occur. However, some people have no expansion room and experience pain as a result.
- Venous thrombosis: While rare in the leg, thrombosis is a moving blockage of circulation in a vein. Thrombosis can cause tenderness and pain.
- Nerve entrapments: This occurs when major nerves around the lower leg or foot are trapped by muscle contractions and squeezed, which can be painful.
The best way to determine the cause of your lower leg pain is to have your symptoms examined by your doctor.
Visit your nearest Urgent Care for any running injuries
Shin splints are painful running injuries. Remember: never try to run through the pain, because this can make it worse and potentially lead to a stress fracture. When returning to a running program shin splint recovery, be sure to gradually increase your mileage. Starting out too strong can risk re-injuring the area. Shin splint stretches should also be a regular part of your routine to support shin splint recovery.
If you have severe leg pain from running, stop by a GoHealth Urgent Care location nearest you. Try using the handy location widget below to check in for an appointment or just walk into any GoHealth Urgent Care location. We'll be happy to see you!
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant