How to Reduce Shin Splint Pain

woman runner with shin splint pain

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Of all the different parts of your legs, you probably don't spend too much time thinking about your shins—until you accidentally kick a table leg and double over in pain. Experiencing shin splints isn't all that different from that stop-you-in-your-tracks pain, except the pain is typically sustained and can interfere with your day-to-day life, particularly your cardio exercise routine.

Shin splints can get worse over time and lead to serious damage if not addressed. If you've started to feel pain along the front of your lower legs, here's what you need to know about shin splints—the causes, treatment, and how to prevent this discomfort in the future.

What Are Shin Splints?

The term "shin splints" is a catchall term that refers to pain along the front of the lower leg. It's typically focused along the inner edge of the shin bone and is also called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). While there can be different root issues (most often associated with overuse and exercise), the pain itself is caused by inflammation of the muscles, tendons, and bones in your lower leg.

The primary thing to note is that shin splints are painful—you'll definitely know that something is awry. The sensation can occur in both legs at the same time or only in a single leg. The pain can be dull and ongoing, or sharp and associated with specific activities or pressure. And, because shin splints are typically due to overuse and exercise, the pain is likely to get worse during and following a workout.

What Causes Shin Splint Pain

Shin splints are largely due to overuse, and while some people may develop shin splints simply from increasing their daily activity, they're more commonly associated with specific types of exercise. Namely, running.

New Running Routines

The act of running places a lot of stress and strain on the lower body, and because foot flexion engages the anterior tibialis (the muscle that runs along the front of your shins), increased use of this muscle and the associated tendons, ligaments, and bones can lead to inflammation. Beginner runners are particularly prone to shin splints due to the sudden change in activity that targets the anterior tibialis. Likewise, running more frequently on hills can also be a contributing factor in developing shin splints.

Other High-Intensity Activities

Other common causes of shin splint pain are high-intensity, high-impact activities, like jumping rope, engaging in plyometric (jump) training, dancing, gymnastics, and sports activities like basketball or soccer where there are frequent, high-speed stops and starts. Military recruits are also commonly affected by shin splints.

Foot Shape

While it's not necessarily a direct cause of shin splint pain, the shape of your foot and arch may make you more likely to experience the issue. Those with flat feet or more rigid arches tend to be more prone to shin splints.

The main thing to remember is that any sudden increase in physical activity (time, distance, or duration) that places stress on the lower body can lead to shin pain.

How to Treat Shin Splint Pain

When an injury is caused by overuse, the main treatment method is to do the exact opposite of overusing the body part. In other words, you need to rest. This can be a major challenge for active individuals who want to keep their regular workout routine going, but it's critically important if you want to heal and prevent further damage or pain.

Generally speaking, you'll need to rest and take a break from your regular workout routine for at least two weeks if you're experiencing shin splint pain. That said, you may need up to four weeks (or even more, depending on the severity of the issue) to allow the inflammation to decrease and heal. You should be completely pain-free for at least two weeks before returning to your regular routine.

Aside from resting, other home treatment methods include taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or aspirin to help lessen the inflammation. Applying ice packs, performing lower-body stretches, and wearing supportive shoes might also help.

There's also some evidence that using arch orthoses to support the arch and compression sleeves or bandages around the lower leg might also help reduce pain. It's a good idea to talk to a doctor to see if these treatment methods or other recommendations might help you return to your normal workout routine more quickly.

Exercises to Reduce Shin Splint Pain

If you're currently experiencing shin splint pain, you need to take a break from your regular exercise routine. That said, there are exercises you can do while resting to help strengthen and support the musculature in your lower leg to help you return to activity more quickly. These exercises may also help reduce the pain and prevent future recurrences of shin splints.

Toe Raises

Toe raises will help strengthen the anterior tibialis. It's important to remember that this is the area that's typically inflamed when you're dealing with shin splints, so if you're currently experiencing pain, you may not want to add toe raises to your routine. That said, they're a good exercise to incorporate when your pain is reduced and you're looking to help prevent future recurrence.

  • Stand barefoot, your feet roughly hip-distance apart, on the edge of a step so your toes are hanging off the edge; only your heels should be balanced on the step.
  • If you need to, place your hands on a wall for support. Engage your core and check your posture.
  • Flex your ankles and raise your toes upward as high as you can, as though trying to bring your toes to your shins.
  • Hold for a second, then release your toes back to the starting position.
  • Perform three sets of 15 repetitions.

Standing Soleus Calf Raise

The soleus calf raise is very similar to the standard calf raise, but the body is positioned slightly differently to target the soleus muscle of the calf, rather than the gastrocnemius (the larger, more noticeable calf muscle). The soleus is used extensively in running, and a strong soleus can help support the lower leg during running, reducing the potential occurrence of shin splints.

  • Stand barefoot, your feet hip-distance apart, behind a sturdy chair with a back.
  • Place your hands lightly on the chair back for support.
  • Engage your core and press your hips back slightly as you bend your knees, essentially moving into a partial squat. Your upper body should remain engaged and your spine aligned, not stooped.
  • From this partial squat position, rise up on the balls of your feet as far as you can, squeezing your calf muscles as you rise.
  • Hold the contraction at the top of the movement for a second, then lower your heels back to the floor.
  • Perform three sets of 15 repetitions.

Single-Leg Balance

Balancing exercises can help strengthen the foot stabilizers to better support high-impact exercise activity and reduce the pressure on the anterior tibialis. A simple single-leg balance exercise can help strengthen these small muscles of the foot and ankle.

  • Stand barefoot with your feet roughly hip-distance apart. Engage your core and check your posture.
  • Shift your weight slightly to the left foot, and carefully bend your right knee, drawing it forward as you lift your right foot from the floor to balance on your left foot.
  • Pay attention to the position of your left foot. Keep pressure in your heel and engage your arch, trying to "lift it" with the muscles of your foot. Keep your weight evenly distributed across the sole of your foot.
  • Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds before repeating to the other side.
  • Complete two sets per side.

Shin Stretch

Tightness along the anterior tibialis may be contributing to the inflammation and pain. Carefully stretching this area can help loosen up the muscles and, with time, reduce the pain.

  • Sit on a mat, your knees bent, your feet under you so your glutes are resting on your heels. The tops of your feet should be flat against the floor.
  • Depending on your level of tightness, you might already feel a stretch along the front of your shin.
  • Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing.

If you don't feel a stretch, place your hands on the floor behind you, and with your core engaged, slowly lean back until you feel a stretch along the front of your shins. It's okay if your knees come up off the ground. When you feel the stretch, hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing. Complete the stretch 2-3 times.

How to Prevent Shin Splints

Because shin splints are an overuse injury, the absolute best way to prevent them is to avoid increasing your activity level too quickly. In other words, don't go from running two days a week to running six days a week without any sort of gradual acclimation.

Any changes to your physical activity routine, particularly if you're engaging in running or other high-impact sports that target the lower leg, should be done slowly and steadily. It's also important to get fitted for the right shoes for your body (and the activity) to make sure your arches and feet are receiving appropriate support.

Cross-training, warming up before exercise, and choosing to run or exercise on softer surfaces (rather than hard concrete) are also effective measures for helping prevent shin splints.

When to See a Doctor

If your pain is new and isn't severely impacting your day-to-day life, you can likely try self-treatment at home for a few weeks before getting checked out by a doctor. This is particularly true if resting, ice, and anti-inflammatories seem to help your symptoms. That said, if your pain is sudden, severe, or doesn't subside with rest, it's definitely time to make an appointment with a healthcare professional.

Sometimes, shin pain may actually be a stress fracture, tendonitis, or chronic exertional compartment syndrome. A doctor will need to perform tests to determine whether one of these more serious issues is the cause of your pain.

A Word From Verywell

Rest is the most important part of the healing process for shin splint pain. Complementary exercises can help strengthen and stretch the affected tissue, but without rest, the pain could get worse. If you experience lingering discomfort, seek advice from a healthcare professional.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for shin splint pain to go away?

    This depends entirely on the severity of the pain and the level of inflammation of the tissue. Generally speaking, when home treatments are followed and activity is reduced, shin splint pain will go away within 2-4 weeks.

  • What are the risks of running with shin splints?

    If you have shin splint pain, the primary risk of continuing your running routine is that the pain will continue and, potentially, get worse. This can affect your running performance and the enjoyment of the activity. More seriously, the affected, inflamed tissue may lead to other, more serious injuries as it worsens, including stress fractures or compartment syndrome. These require treatment from a medical professional and typically require a longer break from physical activity to recover.

  • What are the signs your shin splints have healed?

    The primary sign that your shin splints have healed is that you can engage in physical activity without pain, and without requiring additional treatments, like anti-inflammatories or ice, after an activity is completed.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Shin splints - self care.

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  4. Peterson MN, Kocher BK, Heileson JL, Sanders MV. Effect of compression therapy in the treatment of tibial stress syndrome in military service membersJournal of Sport Rehabilitation. 2022;1(aop):1-7. doi.org/10.1123/jsr.2021-0327