You might not think about your shins until they hurt. But by then, you could be looking at some major downtime from running. In fact, at least one study found that it takes, on average, 71 days to rehab shin splints—that’s over two months on the bench. So instead of getting sidelined for weeks, it’s time to practice some shin splint exercises and stretches that’ll keep you running strong sans aches.
Shin splints (the term for pain that occurs on the front, outer part of the lower leg) often occur when your legs are overworked. A jump in mileage could cause these aches or, sometimes it occurs because your shins pick up the slack for body parts that are weak, says Susan Joy, M.D., a sports and exercise medicine physician with Cleveland Clinic Sports Health. Protect yourself by strengthening your feet, ankles, calves, and hips, which work to support your shins with these shin splint exercises and stretches.
Already feeling shin splint pain? We got you covered with ways to alleviate it fast, too.
How to use this list: Complete 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps of the following shin splint exercises every day (just not before a run!). Each move is demonstrated by Hollis Tuttle, certified personal trainer and run coach and instructor for the Mirror, so you can master the proper form. You will need a step, and a looped resistance band. An exercise mat is optional.
1. Toe Curl
Stand with feet hip-width apart, right foot on a towel. With the toes of your right foot, gather the towel and slowly pull it toward you. Release the towel and let your toes relax. Repeat. Then switch sides.
2. Monster Walk
Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart and place a resistance band around your thighs. You can use one long resistance band tied in a loop or a smaller circular band. Keep feet far enough apart to maintain tension on the band. Step forward with the left foot then the right foot. Then step to the left with left foot then the right foot. Step backward with the left foot then the right foot. Step right with the right foot then the left foot. (You basically walk in a square.) Repeat going in the opposite direction.
3. Heel Drop
Stand with feet staggered on a step with right toes on the edge of the step. Shift your weight to your right leg and bend left knee to lower right heel down below the step. Return to starting position. Repeat. Then switch sides.
4. Single-Leg Bridge
Lie faceup with your arms resting at sides, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Extend right leg straight out so that knees are in line. Squeeze glutes, engage left hamstring, and drive foot into floor to lift hips up off the floor. Lower hips back down. Repeat. Then switch sides.
5. Point and Flex
Stand with hands on hips and shift weight to left leg as you lift right leg straight out in front of you. Flex toes toward shin, then point toes away from shin. That’s one rep. Repeat. Then switch sides.
6. Toe Walk
Start standing with feet together and arms at sides. Rise up onto toes. Step with right foot landing heel first, rolling onto midfoot, then through to the toes and lifting back up onto toes as you step with left foot. Continue alternating sides as you step forward. Then turn around and repeat until you complete the reps.
How to Alleviate Shin Splint Aches
Massage With Ice
Freeze a paper cup filled with water, tear off the top edge of the cup, and massage with comfortable pressure along the inside of the shinbone for 10 to 15 minutes after running to reduce inflammation.
Add Arch Support
By “lifting” the arch with insoles, you take stress off of your lower legs. You don’t need to use these forever if you do strength work—think of insoles like a splint for your foot and remove them once you’re fully recovered. Try different options available at running specialty stores.
Stretch and Rest
Loosen up tight calves and Achilles tendons, as both can contribute to shin splints. Reduce running mileage and do low-impact cross-training (think: biking, swimming, elliptical) instead. When you resume your training, ease in gradually—too much too soon could cause a relapse.
All images: Julia Hembree Smith