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Stretches and Exercises for Reducing Shin Splints

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT November 22, 2019 0 Comments

A well-balanced program, with stretches and exercises for shin splints (also known as medial tibial stress syndrome), is one of the best treatment options available. Adding other modalities such as ice, massage, and kinesiotaping will minimize downtime and maximize your quality of life. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will start feeling better!

Shin Splint Stretches

Stretching is an excellent way to relieve stiffness and pain in the shins. They will promote better blood flow and general relaxation to help you properly heal.

Calf Stretch

Tight calf muscles are commonly associated with shin pain. To stretch them, sit on the floor with the legs outstretched. Put a small rolled towel or bolster under your ankle so that you can freely move the heel. Take a stretching strap or towel and place it around the ball of your foot. While holding the strap with both hands, gently pull the toes up toward the shin. Keep the foot relaxed, the movement should be passive (NOT active) or painful. You should feel a deep stretch in the calf.

Hold the stretch 30-60 seconds, 2-3 times on each side.

Standing Deep Calf Stretch

To stretch the soleus and tibialis posterior, the deeper muscles of the calves, the knee must be bent. Standing at a wall or chair with the toes facing forward, step one foot behind you and place it flat on the floor. Then, bend both your knees as you lean forward into the chair. Don’t let the back heel raise off the ground. You should start to feel a deep stretch in the calf. To get a little deeper, you can then gently bring the back knee inward. Again, keep the heel on the ground. Don’t force the stretch, discomfort is okay but sharp pain is not.

Hold 30-60 seconds on each leg, 2- 3 times throughout the day.

Seated Anterior Shin Stretch

This stretch will focus on the most common problem area with shin splints, the anterior tibialis, that sits along the front of the shin. You will start by keeling on both your shins. Make sure the tops of your feet are flush with the ground. Bring the big toes toward each other, touching them together if possible. To get a deep stretch, you will then bring your butt toward your heels as far as is comfortable. Prop yourself on your hands or arms for comfort while holding the stretch. For an even deeper stretch, you can use your arms to lift your knees off the ground. Make sure to keep the top of your feet on the ground as you lift.

Hold 30-60 seconds, 2-3 times total.

Alternative: If it’s hard to get in a kneeling position, simply sit with your affected leg dangling in front of you (either cross the legs or hold your knee). Then point the toes down and inward until you feel a stretch in the shin.

Gastrocnemius Stretch

Stand facing the wall or a chair. Step one foot backward so that you are standing in a small lunge position with both feet forward. Bend the front knee and you lean forward, making sure to keep the back leg straight and heel on the ground. Continue to shift your weight forward until you feel a strong stretch in the calf.

Hold 30-60 seconds, 2-3 times on each side.

Shin Splint Exercises

Strengthening can help restore balance to the lower legs. Shin health is more than just having strong muscles. It’s about re-training the muscles to work together in a coordinated fashion that promotes efficiency with your daily activities.

4-Way Ankle Strengthening

This is a great comprehensive approach that addresses every direction of ankle motion and all the muscles around the shin. You will need a resistance band to complete them. Ideally, having a variety of tensions will allow you to progress when possible. Tie the end of the band in a loop, as if it’s a lasso (for your foot!). The loop should be big enough to fit the ball of your foot in, but not so loose that it will fall off when putting in place. Do all of these exercises either in a seated position or long sitting on the floor with a small foam roller or towel propped under the ankle. Keep the knee and hips steady throughout (no movement should come from these joints). The majority of the effort should come from the shin, thus make sure your toes don’t feel too strained.

Keep the motion slow and controlled in both directions (up and down). Repeat 10-15 reps of each on both legs, 2-3 sets total. Increase resistance as tolerated.

  1. Ankle Dorsiflexion

    Place the loop around the ball of your foot with the knot and loose end at the bottom of the foot. From this angle (at the bottom of your foot), you will need someone to hold the band or secure it around something sturdy, like a table leg. You will then pull your foot up against the resistance of the band, bringing your toes up toward the shin.

  2. Ankle Eversion

    Place the loop around the ball of the foot again, this time with the knot on the inside of the arch. Again, have someone hold the band (or secure it), changing the position so that they’re facing your inner foot. You will then push the outside edge of your foot against the resistance of the band as you try to bring the toes toward your outer leg. Make sure you keep the motion small. If your entire leg is trying to rotate, it means you’re going too far.

  3. Ankle Inversion

    Same set up as above, this time with the knot on the outside of the foot near the small toe. Your ankle will move in the opposite direction of eversion (above), bringing the toes toward the inner leg. Again, keep the motion small.

  4. Ankle Plantarflexion

    Lastly, put the knot of the loop on the top of the foot. This time, you can hold the band yourself as you push against the resistance to point the toes.

Towel Toe Curls

This is great for strengthening and learning coordination for the foot muscles that control the arch (and thus, indirectly, the ankle and shin). Sit with the feet flat on the ground. Place a small towel underneath your feet. Using only your toes, keep the heels on the ground as you attempt to scrunch the towel toward you. Adjust the excess towel under your foot as needed as you attempt to scrunch your way to the end of the towel.

Each round should take 30-60 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times total.

Calf Raises

Stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of a step. Your heels will be free, hanging off the back of the step. Then, lift the heels as high as you can. Next, slowly lower the heels (below the step if possible).

Lift the heels to a count of 2, lower to a count of 4. Repeat 15 times, 2-3 times.

Alternative: You can progress to completing the lowering motion of the heels (as above) with only one foot at a time.

Single-Leg Deadlift

This is a great way to start addressing full-body coordination into your exercise routine as you prepare to fully return to your normal activities. Start by finding your balance on one leg, with a slight bend in the knee (not locked). Then, bend forward at your hips as you reach with the opposite hand to the foot you are standing on. Finding a focal point to focus on can help you maintain your balance.

Repeat 10-15 times, 2-3 times on each leg.

Alternative: If too hard, simply start single-leg standing, focusing on holding your arch, foot, and ankle in an optimized position (it should feel easy). If too easy, try standing on a foam balance pad while completing your single-leg deadlifts.

Can You Workout with Shin Splints?

Yes! In fact, it is encouraged. Stopping all exercise can lead to an unnecessary loss of your current fitness level and strength. Noticeable changes in strength and endurance can be measured in as little as three weeks. Thus, it’s best to find ways to adjust your workout as you heal. Try low impact exercise, cross-training, and strength training.

How to Get Rid of Shin Splints

How Stretches & Exercise Help Recovery

Stretches increase flexibility while exercises can strengthen the anterior tibialis and surrounding muscle groups. Ultimately, a stretching and strengthening program should complement your normal daily activities and sports (or exercise of choice). The truth is, that no amount of stretching or strengthening will help your shins if you don’t learn to be aware of how you’re moving. With this awareness, you can correctly incorporate the strength and coordination you build directly into your daily routine. Keep this in mind if you don’t seem to be getting the results that you want. Also, consider seeking help from a trained professional such as a physical therapist to better address this important aspect of your home program.

Exercises that Cause Shin Splints

High impact exercise that puts a lot of stress and strain on the shin bone is most likely to lead to problems with shin splints. This is particularly true if you are new to your fitness regime and increase your intensity too quickly. High impact activities include:

  • Jumping training, associated with common programs today, such as HIIT (high-intensity interval training), Zumba, and kickboxing.
  • Running, especially on hills.
  • Sports that require a frequent change of direction and abrupt stops, such as basketball and football.

Taking Precautions to Avoid Shin Splints

A well-balanced strength and stretching program is part of a good recovery program for shin splints. Take your fitness level into account when you decide to start a new exercise program or improve your current one. Gradually increase your intensity, progressing only one aspect at a time, such as time, distance, or effort. If you have sharp, palpable pain make sure you see your doctor right away, as this is a sign of a bigger issue like a stress fracture.

*** If at any time you are feeling unsure of yourself, experience an increase in pain, severe pain, or onset of leg numbness and weakness, consult your doctor for further medical advice. 


Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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