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5 Exercises to Reduce the Risk of Shin Splints

What are “shin splints”?

“Shin splints,” or medial tibial stress syndrome, refers to pain along the shin bone, most commonly occurring with running. Pain is caused by irritation of the muscle attachment to the shin bone, or tibia. Common muscles in the lower leg that contribute to shin splints are the flexor digitorum longus, soleus, and posterior tibialis. In cases of excessive load or impact beyond the muscles’ capacity, their pulling traction force on the connective tissue around the shin bone causes inflammation around the muscle-bone connection.

What are common signs of shin splints?

  • Pain at the beginning of a run (or other impact activity)
  • Pain decreases once warmed up
  • Pain may return later in the run.
  • Pain goes away after hours or days.
  • Pain covers a broad (three fingers’ width or more) area along the shin. Pain in a more pinpoint area could indicate a stress fracture.

Risk factors for shin splints

Running creates loading on a single leg that is greater than five times your body weight. Considering that number, it’s easy to understand how a not-so-gradual increase in running could lead to shin splints. Other risk factors include a greater BMI, a lower running step rate (<164), and uncontrolled pronation of the foot.

How to alleviate shin splints

If you already have shin splints, there are a few actionables to alleviate your pain.

  • Wear a temporary orthotic.
  • Decrease running volume by 50%.
  • Do non-weight bearing cross training.
  • Foam roll and stretch the soleus (calf) muscle.
  • Increase your running step rate (cadence).

Five exercises to reduce the risk of shin splints

Making a plan for a gradual increase in running or impact is the best way to reduce the risk of shin splints. There are also exercises that can be helpful to set yourself up for success.

  1. Single-leg soleus raise. Stand on one leg on a stair, with the free leg up on a stair above assisting with balance only. Keep the bottom knee slightly bent. Lift the heel of the bottom leg up and down to perform a calf raise. Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, 3-4 times per week.

2. 4-way squat. Standing on one leg, touch the free leg forward, then out to the side, then behind you, and finally to the other side in a curtsy motion. Try 3-4 sets of 3-4 repetitions, 3-4 times per week.

3. Eccentric step down. Stand sideways on a stair on one leg. Bend the weight-bearing knee to lower the free leg toward the ground below the stair, keeping the pelvis level as you drop downward. Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, 3-4 times per week.

4. Single-leg weight transfers. Stand on one leg, knee slightly bent. Hold a weight in one hand and pass it to the other hand. Continue passing the weight from one hand to the other. Try to stay still and balanced as the weight changes positions. Do 3 sets of 30-60 seconds, 3-4 times per week.

5. Single-leg RDLs. Stand on one leg. Hinge the torso forward while raising the free leg, keeping the torso in line with the free leg, like a see-saw. Then return to standing. Keep the hips facing forward throughout the motion. Try 3-4 sets of 5-8 repetitions, 3-4 times per week.

Conclusion:

  • “Shin splints” refers to pain along the shin caused by irritation of the muscle-shin bone connection.
  • Shin splints most commonly occur with an increase in running and impact activities.
  • Shin splint pain covers a broad area of the lower leg, rather than pinpoint pain, which may be a sign of a stress fracture.
  • Pain may be alleviated by decreasing impact and loading, but the best approach is to reduce your risk of shin splints in the first place by gradually increasing your running over time, strengthening the muscles of the foot and calf, and improving single-leg stability.
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Here at Peak Endurance Performance & Physical Therapy we help active adults in the Madison Area get back to the activities they love without pain or limitations. We see people of all ages, ability levels, and individuals trying to get back to a multitude of movements including: getting back into running, women postpartum, CrossFit athletes, climbers, gymnasts, wrestlers, overhead athletes, and your recreational weekend warrior. If you’re looking to get back to the activities that give you meaning, relieve stress, and make you feel like you again, feel free to reach out below and we’ll see if we’re the right fit for you.