Anyone who is a regular runner, dancer, soccer player, or even a military recruit is at risk of developing muscle pain in their shins. Although much bonier and not as meaty-looking as your calves at the back of your leg, the front of your lower legs do actually have some smaller muscles and tendons running across them. These muscles, mainly the tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior, control the upwards and downwards movement of your foot. They run on either side of your tibia that most people know as their shin bone.
Unfortunately, this area of your lower leg can become tight and injured just like any other part of your body. The causes have mostly been identified as either being a beginner to frequent running, or by intensifying and changing up the intensity of one’s workout. The increased activity and strain can put wear and tear on the muscle tissues of the front of the leg leading to injury down the road. This type of sprain is known medically as medial tibial stress syndrome, but it’s most commonly referred to as “shin splints”.
As anyone who has experienced shin splints can tell you, it can be quite a painful condition that flares up during leg-based exercise. It can and will force you to stop the physical activity that you love and rest up for a number of weeks. For professional athletes this of course can leave them sidelined on the bench for far longer than any of them would like. Most of the time, athletes can treat their shin splints with just ice, rest, and upgrading their footwear. But it’s not something anyone wants to have happen to them.
The typical symptoms of shins splints are a tenderness or aching feeling all along and inside the shin bone. Pressing on the area can also cause some discomfort. The pain may feel like its localized in the bone itself, but unless you’ve actually fractured it (which is far less common), it’s most probably a case of muscle inflammation. Those with shin splint pain will feel it most acutely at the beginning of their running or dancing activity, but it usually passes as the muscles become more warmed up. If there is an actual stress fracture of the bone, the pain does not go away during rest periods and will require more intensive medical attention.
There’s much that we can do to help prevent shin splints: from simply decreasing the intensity of a run to replacing older or cheap shoes. Especially for frequent runners, it is recommended to replace your specialized running shoes every 350-500 miles. Even more importantly though, we can start incorporating some targeted stretches for this area before or after our workouts to minimize the potential risk of injury.
Check out some of the stretches below. They’re easy to perform and don’t require any specialized equipment. By utilizing these movements 2-3 times per week for 10-15 minutes at a time, you should find any tightness or discomfort in your shins ameliorating. But of course, always make sure to first consult with a medical professional if you have any kind of pain that does not diminish or leaves you sidelined. It can be indicative of a more serious condition.
Joel is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE and the founder of MoveWell. Joel founded MoveWell after sustaining an injury while running an ultra marathon on every continent. Joel is writes about mobility, pain management and health and wellness overall.