Shin Splints

If you've been doing a lot of physical activity lately, you might notice a dull ache and swelling in your lower leg. Those who have flat feet or tight calves are especially prone to shin splints (which don't actually splinter!)

“Shin splints” is a term to describe pain and swelling in the front of the lower legs. The pain usually appears after and is aggravated by repetitive activities such as running or walking. Contributing causes are flat feet, calf tightness, improper training techniques, worn out or improper shoes/sneakers, as well as running or walking on uneven surfaces. The inflammation in the shin results from the repeated pull of a muscle in the leg from the shin bone (tibia).

This condition usually occurs bilaterally (both legs) and can be alleviated by rest, use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, icing, a change in training habits, stretching exercises, and properly fitted shoes. A foot and ankle surgeon can treat the condition, recommend proper shoe gear, and evaluate whether orthotics are needed. If not treated, shin splints may eventually result in a stress fracture of the shin bone.

Stretching Exercises For Shin Splints

Gastrocnemius stretches

The Gastrocnemius muscle is the largest and most superficial of the calf muscles. It crosses the knee joint to attach to the femur (thigh bone) and so to stretch the Gastrocnemius muscle, the knee must be straight. There are various ways of stretching this muscle, including the most common:

  • The patient stands facing a wall with a wide stance and the injured leg stretched behind. The other leg is in a semi-lunge. The heel is down and the knee straight on the back leg as they lean forwards, using the wall for balance. A gentle stretch should be felt in the back of the lower leg. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. 
  • The patient stands on a step, making sure there is something to hold on to (a wall or banister, etc). The toes should be positioned right on the edge of the step, with the heel over the edge. The heel is slowly lowered, keeping the knee straight, until a stretch can be felt. Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. 

Soleus stretch

The soleus muscle is located underneath the larger Gastrocnemius and it doesn't cross the knee joint. Therefore to stretch this muscle the knee must be bent to relax the overlying Gastrocnemius.

  • The patient should stand facing a wall with the foot of the calf to be stretched at the back. The knee of the back leg should be bent towards the wall, keeping the heel on the floor. A stretch should be felt in the lower part of the back of the calf. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.

Seated shin stretch

Stretching the muscles on the front of the lower leg can be difficult to achieve. The following is the easiest ways of doing so.

  • Kneel down and sit on your heels. Gently push down on the heels to stretch the front of the leg. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. This stretch can be increased by stretching one leg at a time and gently pulling the knee up.

Standing shin stretch

  • Stand with your toes of one foot on the floor on the outside of your other foot. Bend the weightbearing leg to push your other ankle towards the ground. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. 

If you believe you have shin splints please make an appointment in one of our six offices: Rocky Hill CT, Bristol CT, Newington CT, Glastonbury CT, Middletown CT, and Kensington CT to see one of our four highly trained podiatrists: Dr. Jeffrey S. Kahn, Dr. Richard E. Ehle, Dr. Craig M. Kaufman, and Dr. Ayman M. Latif. 

More Reading

Check out our blog posts for more reading on shin splints: