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The term “shin splints” describes pain felt along the front of your leg and shinbone. You’ll notice the pain in the front area of the leg between your knee and ankle.

Shin splints are a common overuse injury. They can occur from running or doing other high-impact activities for extended periods of time or without adequate stretching. They are common in:

  • runners
  • military recruits
  • dancers
  • athletes who play sports like tennis

With rest and treatment, such as ice and stretching, shin splints may heal on their own. Continuing physical activity or ignoring symptoms of shin splints could lead to a more serious injury.

Read on to learn how to get rid of shin splints, and what you can do to prevent this injury from returning.

RICE is a common approach to treating injuries at home, and it may help heal your shin splints. It stands for:

  • Rest. Rest from all activities that cause you pain, swelling, or discomfort. Active rest is usually fine for shin splints, but you should see a doctor if you think you have a more serious injury. Try low-impact activities like swimming until your pain subsides.
  • Ice. Place ice packs on your shins for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Wrap them in a towel and don’t place ice directly on your skin. Ice four to eight times a day for several days until shin splint pain subsides.
  • Compression. Try wearing a calf compression sleeve to help reduce inflammation around your shins.
  • Elevation. When you’re icing your shins, try elevating them on a pillow or chair to further reduce inflammation.

While resting your shins, you may still be able to do some exercise.

If you’re a runner, you may be able to safely continue running, but you’ll want to decrease distance and frequency. You should also decrease running intensity by about 50 percent, and avoid hills, uneven surfaces, and hard surfaces, like cement. If you have access to one, running on a treadmill may be a safe option.

Low-impact exercises such as swimming, pool running, or biking until your pain subsides may also help.

Stretching out the calf muscle and surrounding muscles may help relieve shin splint pain. If you suspect you have shin splints, perform the three stretches below daily or every other day. Combine stretching with a RICE protocol (see below).

Precautions:

  • Don’t perform these stretches if they are painful.
  • Avoid these stretches if you suspect you have a stress fracture or more serious injury. These types of injuries require treatment from a doctor.

1. Seated shin stretch

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This stretch targets the muscles at the back of the lower leg to help alleviate pain in the shin area.

  1. Begin in a kneeling position, and sit down gently so your heels are directly beneath your glutes and your knees are in front of you.
  2. Place your hands on the floor behind you and lean back slightly.
  3. Gently push down on your heels using your body weight to feel the stretch.
  4. Lift your knees slightly off the ground to increase the pressure.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds. Release and repeat up to 3 times.

2. Soleus muscle stretch

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This stretch targets the muscles in the back of your calf.

  1. Stand facing a wall or closed door.
  2. Place both hands on the wall.
  3. Step one foot slightly behind the other.
  4. Slowly squat down so you are bending both knees to feel the stretch. Keep both heels on the floor the entire time.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds. Release and repeat up to 3 times.
  6. Switch to the other leg in front, if desired.

3. Gastrocnemius muscle stretch

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Stretching your calf muscles may help ease shin splint pain.

  1. Stand facing a sturdy wall or closed door you can push against.
  2. Place both hands on the wall.
  3. Step one foot back (the one you are stretching) and keep that leg straight. Bend your front knee. Keep both feet flat on the floor.
  4. Lean your torso forward to feel the stretch in your calf muscle. You may need to move your straight leg slightly back to feel more of a stretch.
  5. Hold for 20 seconds and relax. Repeat three times.
  6. Switch legs, if desired.

4. Calf raises

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Calf raises can help strengthen the calf muscles, which may relieve some pain.

  1. Stand on a step or step stool with the balls of your feet on the stool and the back half floating off of it.
  2. Slowly raise up on your toes and then drop down, stretch your foot and calf muscle as your heels lower. Hold for 10–20 seconds.
  3. Return to the start
  4. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.

5. Foam rolling

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A foam roller can help reduce inflammation and may alleviate shin splint pain. Here’s a technique for “rolling” out your shins:

  1. Begin on your hands and knees with the foam roller on the floor underneath your chest.
  2. Draw your right knee toward your face and carefully place your right shin on the foam roller.
  3. Slowly roll up and down your shin, keeping your left leg firmly on the ground to control the pressure.
  4. After a few rolls or finding a painful spot, you may need to stop, flex, and extend your ankle before continuing.
  5. Switch legs, if desired.

You can try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), naproxen sodium (Aleve), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce shin splint discomfort.

Pain relievers are not a substitute for treating shin splints. Be sure to practice some stretching, foam rolling, and RICE until your pain subsides.

You may be able to prevent or reduce your risk for shin splints by taking the following steps:

  • Wear properly fitted and appropriate athletic shoes. Wearing appropriate shoes for your sport can help prevent shin splints. Shoes that provide good support for playing tennis may not provide the right support for running.
  • If you’re a runner, have your stride observed at a running store. The staff can help you get a shoe that matches your foot structure and stride. If you have high arches or flat feet, you might need inserts, too.
  • Replace your shoes often. If you’re a runner, you should get new shoes every 350 to 500 miles of wear.
  • Gradually build up your fitness level. Increase your mileage or amount of physical activity slowly each week. That can help strength and loosen up your muscles.
  • Cross train. Varying your movements can prevent shin splints. Try breaking up your normal routine with swimming, biking, or yoga a few times a week.
  • Try shock-absorbing insoles. These may reduce the impact on your shin during exercise.

Shin splints can occur when you overwork the muscle and bone tissue in the leg by repetitive activity. They often occur after a change in frequency of physical activity. For example, running too many miles too quickly, without letting your body adjust to the training.

They can also be caused by a change in duration or intensity of physical activity. Switching the surface you’re exercising on can also lead to shin splints. For example, you may get shin splints if you’re a runner and switch from running on a soft surface to running on pavement or concrete, or if you’re a tennis player who switches from a grass or clay court to a hard court.

You are more at risk for developing shin splints if the following applies to you:

  • You’re a runner or new to long-distance running.
  • You’ve recently increased the intensity or frequency of your workouts.
  • You run on uneven terrain, concrete, or hills.
  • You’re in military training.
  • You have flat feet.
  • You have high arches.

Shin splint pain may go away on its own if you’re following a RICE protocol and stretching daily.

To avoid reinjuring yourself, slowly and gradually return to your regular exercise routine. For example, if you’re a runner, start by walking. If you can walk pain free for a few days, start jogging slowly.

Always ice after your workout, and stretch before and after, too.

See a doctor if your shin splint pain doesn’t go away or if you suspect a more serious injury. The doctor can do an examination and may also perform an X-ray to determine the cause and recommend treatment.

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