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Effective Exercises To Prevent Shin Splints

Effective Exercises To Prevent Shin Splints


Hitting the ground running is a great way to stay active, but those pounding steps can sometimes lead to a frustrating condition called shin splints. This condition is also known as medial tibial stress syndrome. It is a pain along the inner edge of your shin bone. While not a serious condition, it can definitely put a limit on your workout routine.

This blog will guide you through effective exercises to prevent shin splints, along with explaining the causes and symptoms. Remember, prevention is always better than cure!

Understanding Shin Splints

Shin splints are a common occurrence for runners, contributing to around 10 to 15% of all running injuries. In fact, studies have shown that shin splints are responsible for up to 60% of all leg pain in athletes. This painful condition can sideline you from your workout routine.

What are the causes of shin splints?

Shin splints occur when the muscles and tendons around your shinbone are subjected to repetitive stress. This can happen due to:

  • Sudden increase in activity: If you’re a beginner or returning to exercise after a break, ramping up your intensity too quickly can overload your shins.
  • Improper footwear: Worn-out shoes or running shoes that don’t provide enough arch support can contribute to shin splints.
  • Running technique: Incorrect running form, like landing on your heels, can put excessive stress on your shins.
  • Hard surfaces: Running or walking on hard surfaces like concrete can increase your risk.

What are the symptoms of shin splints?

The main symptom of shin splints is pain along the inner edge of your shinbone, especially during and after exercise. The pain may also be present when you press on the area. Other symptoms can include:

  • Tenderness
  • Achiness
  • Dull pain
  • Swelling (in some cases)

Who is at risk?

Anyone who participates in activities that involve repetitive running, jumping, or forceful pushing off the ground is at risk for shin splints. This includes runners, dancers, athletes in sports like basketball and tennis, military recruits, and people with certain biomechanical abnormalities, such as flat feet, as they may experience altered biomechanics that increase the amounts of stress on their shins. 

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Prevention is Better Than Cure shin splints

Now that you understand the causes and symptoms of shin splints let’s focus on preventing them altogether.

Importance of exercises in preventing shin splints

Exercises that strengthen the muscles and tendons around your shinbone can significantly reduce your risk of shin splints. These shin exercises help to improve flexibility, absorb impact, and distribute stress more evenly across your lower leg.

Effective Exercises to Prevent Shin Splints

Here are some of the most effective exercises to prevent shin splints:

Toe Curls

This simple exercise strengthens the muscles in your feet and ankles, which improves overall stability and reduces stress on your shins.

How it helps:

Stronger foot muscles help absorb shock and distribute pressure more evenly when you run or walk.

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Sit in a chair or stand with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place a towel on the ground in front of you (optional).
  3. Curl your toes down towards the floor, scrunching the towel with your toes if you’re using one.
  4. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly release your toes back to flat.
  5. Repeat 10-15 times, doing 2-3 sets.

Heel Drops

Heel drops strengthen your calf muscles, which is important in absorbing impact during activities like running.

How it helps:

Stronger calf muscles help to reduce stress on the muscles and tendons around your shinbone.

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Stand on a step or curb with the balls of your feet hanging off the edge.
  2. Slowly lower your heels down below the step until you feel a stretch in your calves.
  3. Push back up onto the balls of your feet, raising your heels as high as you comfortably can.
  4. Repeat 10-15 times, doing 2-3 sets.

Monster Walks

This exercise works on your inner and outer thigh muscles, which help to stabilize your leg and improve overall running form.

How it helps:

Stronger leg muscles contribute to better alignment and reduce the stress placed on your shins.

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed slightly outward.
  2. Lower yourself into a squat position, keeping your back straight and core engaged.
  3. As you squat down, take small side steps, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
  4. Imagine walking sideways between two cones placed a few feet apart.
  5. Stand back up and repeat, taking side steps in the opposite direction.
  6. Do 10-15 side steps in each direction, completing 2-3 sets.

Calf Raises

A classic exercise for strengthening your calf muscles, calf raises can be done with variations to target different parts of the calf.

How it helps:

Stronger calf muscles absorb shock and improve push-off power, reducing stress on your shins.

Step-by-step guide (standard calf raises):

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold onto a wall or chair for balance.
  2. Raise your heels up onto the balls of your feet, squeezing your calf muscles at the top.
  3. Hold for a second, then slowly lower your heels back down to flat.
  4. Repeat 15-20 times, doing 2-3 sets.

Variation: Seated Calf Raises:

  1. Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place a weight (like a book) on your thighs just above your knees.
  3. Raise your heels off the floor, squeezing your calves, then slowly lower them back down.
  4. Repeat 15-20 times, doing 2-3 sets.

Shin Resistance Exercise

This isometric exercise strengthens the muscles surrounding your shinbone.

How it helps:

Stronger shin muscles help them resist the repetitive stress that can lead to shin splints.

Step-by-step guide:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
  2. Loop a resistance band around the arch of one foot.
  3. Pull the band towards you, trying to bend your ankle back. Resist this movement with your foot, keeping your ankle straight.
  4. Hold for a few seconds, then relax.
  5. Repeat 10-15 times on each foot, doing 2-3 sets.

Additional Tips for Prevention

Additional Tips for Prevention shin splints

Here are some additional tips to keep shin splints at bay:

Importance of proper footwear

Invest in good-quality shoes that fit well and provide adequate arch support. Consider visiting a specialty running store for gait analysis and shoe recommendations.

Importance of warming up before exercises 

A proper warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles and prepares them for physical activity. This can help to reduce your risk of overuse injuries. Aim for 5-10 minutes of light cardio and dynamic stretches before your workout.

Importance of cooling down after exercises

A cool-down helps your body gradually return to its resting state. Include static stretches that target your calves, shins, and hamstrings in your cool-down routine.

Exercise Prevention in Shin Splints with Backcountry Physical Therapy

Incorporating exercises for shin splints into your routine can significantly reduce the risk of developing this condition. Learning how to avoid shin splints is important, especially for those who frequently engage in high-impact activities. Consulting with a physical therapist experienced in sports injuries at Backcountry Physical Therapy can offer personalized physical therapy exercises to prevent shin splints, along with strategies tailored to your specific needs.


Shin splints are a common but preventable condition. By incorporating the shin splint exercises mentioned above into your routine and following the additional preventive tips can significantly reduce your risk of experiencing this common running injury. Remember to listen to your body, gradually increase your activity level, and don’t hesitate to seek help from a healthcare professional if you experience any pain.


Can I walk with shin splints?

Walking with shin splints can be uncomfortable and may worsen the pain. It’s generally best to rest from aggravating activities and allow your shins to heal. However, consult a medical professional for a specific treatment plan based on your situation.

What is the first aid for shin splints?

The RICE principle (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can help to reduce pain and inflammation in shin splints. Apply ice packs to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Rest your shins and avoid activities that aggravate the pain of shin splints. You can also use compression wraps to support your shins.

How long do shin splints last?

The healing time for shin splints can vary depending on the severity. With adequate rest and proper treatment, most cases of shin splints improve within a few weeks. However, if the shin pain persists or worsens, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out any underlying conditions.

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!