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If you suffer from pain to the muscles of the lower leg during physical activity, you could be suffering from shin splints.
Shin splints, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is one of the most common overuse injuries that affects runners and other athletes who partake in high-impact sports.
Shin splint pain is felt along the inside of the tibia (the shin bone) usually either during or immediately after exercise.
Common symptoms can include swelling to the surrounding shin muscles and shin pain.
It can also indirectly affect the calf muscles, especially if they become overworked and fatigued resulting in discomfort.
It’s important not to confuse shin splints with stress fractures.
Both are classed as an overuse injury, but the pain associated with shin splints tends to subside post-exercise.
This is different to a stress fracture whereby the pain persists and can worsen over time.
In either case, both conditions can be diagnosed by a physical therapist.
Strength training for shin splints can help to prevent it from developing, in this article we’ll look at some simple exercises which can help to strengthen.
Strength Training For Shin Splints
While it’s important to strengthen muscles to the front of the lower leg, particularly the tibialis anterior, you also need to develop the back of the lower leg and the upper leg muscles as they all work together for lower body alignment.
Below are some effective and easy strengthening exercises to help manage discomfort and reduce the risk of shin splints.
Before attempting any of them we always recommend you seek advice medical advice.
Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
More commonly known as the Bulgarian split squat, this is a great way of working your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and hip muscles.
Keeping these muscles strong and flexible can help to prevent the onset of shin splints.
- Start by adopting a split stance with your right leg in front of the left leg.
- Make sure your right foot is elevated on a couple of weight plates or similar.
- Your left foot should be resting on the balls of the foot. This is the starting position.
- Drive your right knee forward so your left knee lowers towards the floor.
- Go as low as you can before pushing through your front foot back to the start.
- Perform 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps on each leg.
As shin splints is one of the most common running injuries, it’s important to work on the muscles of your calf (the soleus and gastrocnemius).
Strong calves will not only improve your explosive strength, but they can also make you less prone to shin splints.
The calf raise is also one of the best exercises to improve plantar flexion and is an effective way of providing immediate relief for shin split pain.
- Stand on the edge of an elevated surface and hook your left foot round the back of your right ankle.
- Your right heel should be hanging off the edge of the step.
- Rise up on the ball of your foot going as high as you can.
- Then lower yourself all the way until you feel a stretch to your calf muscles.
- If you find this quite challenging, you can perform it with both feet at the same time.
- Complete 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps on each leg.
If you find it difficult to pull your toes towards the front of your shin you may have poor ankle dorsiflexion.
Doing this exercise can increase the flexibility and range of motion at your ankle joints helping to prevent shin splints.
For an extra challenge on the muscles, you’ll need to use a resistance band for this movement.
- Sit on the ground with your legs extended.
- Take a band and anchor it to the bottom of a table or door and wrap the other end around the top of the foot to be worked.
- Before you start, make sure there’s enough tension in the band.
- Slowly and with control pull your toes towards your shin going as far as possible.
- Lower back to the start and repeat.
Toe taps, sometimes called toe raises, are a really simple exercise that you can perform anywhere.
It’s a great way of strengthening the tibialis muscle which can better support your shin bone.
What’s more, as it’s a dynamic movement it can also help improve flexibility and coordination.
- Begin seated in a chair with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your right heel on the floor, raise your toes up towards the ceiling.
- Lower back to the start and repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps before switching to the other foot.
- You should feel the muscles to the front of your lower leg contract as you perform this exercise.
Tibialis Foam Rolling
Foam rolling the anterior tibialis muscle down the front of the shin is a great way to encourage blood flow and alleviate tight muscles which can help to promote healing and reduce the pain associated with shin splints.
A good tip is to use a medium density roller, anything harder will probably be too painful.
- Get into a kneeling position and place the foam roller just below the left knee cap.
- Place both hands just in front and on the floor.
- Keeping your right leg in place, roll your left shin muscle up and down the foam roller.
- Make sure to go all the way up and down the length of the muscle.
- As you do this, try pointing your left foot inward as this is more effective for targeting the affected area.
- Continue foam rolling for around 1 minute before switching to the other leg.
Heel walking is more of a functional exercise and does require a fair bit of balance and stability to be able to do it properly.
You don’t need any equipment for this making it a good option for trying out at home.
Perform this exercise for a set period of time but always stop if it becomes too uncomfortable.
- Start by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart.
- Pull your toes up off the floor and start to take some steps forward.
- Continue doing this without letting your toes touch the floor.
- Aim for a duration of between 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
Causes Of Shin Splints
The most common cause of shin splints are high-impact activities like running or jumping and is especially common in new runners who perhaps haven’t adapted to this form of cardio or increased their activity levels.
The impact of landing on hard surfaces and excessive muscle contractions put significant stress on the bones increasing the risk of injury.
Regular exercise can lead to stronger and denser bones but when we overdo it and don’t give ourselves enough time to recover properly, this is when conditions like shin splints can develop.
Let’s look at some of the more common causes of shin splints.
Overuse or Increased Activity
Sudden increases in the frequency, intensity, or duration of certain exercises can strain the muscles and bones in your lower leg, which may cause shin splints.
This tends to be more common in athletes who rapidly escalate their training without allowing sufficient time for adaptation.
Wearing shoes that lack proper support or don’t fit well can contribute to shin splints.
Shoes with inadequate shock absorption or that have worn-out cushioning may not provide the necessary protection during high-impact activities.
Flat Feet or High Arches
People with flat feet or high arches could be more susceptible to shin splints due to altered weight distribution and biomechanical stress on the lower leg.
Muscle Weakness or Imbalances
Weakness in the muscles of the lower leg, particularly the anterior tibialis (shin muscles), can contribute to shin splints.
A muscle imbalance between muscle groups may result in increased stress on the surrounding muscles and tendons.
Inadequate Warm-up or Stretching
Failing to warm up properly before doing any exercise or neglecting proper stretching can leave the muscles tight and less prepared for the demands of physical activity, increasing the risk of injury.
Running on Hard Surfaces
Running or exercising on hard surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt, can transmit more impact force to the lower leg, potentially leading to shin splints.
Poor Running Technique
Running with improper form, such as overstriding or landing heavily on the heels, can contribute to the development of shin splints by putting additional stress on the lower leg.
Shin splints may be common but it’s certainly preventable and by taking the time to factor in a number of exercises recommended above you can strengthen the muscles of your lower leg and reduce the likelihood of developing shin splints in the first place.