Stretches for Shin Splints

As someone who battled shin splints for two-and-a-half years, I understand the desperation to find relief from shin splint pain.

Like many athletes, I initially turned to stretching as a potential solution. Stretching the calves, hamstrings, glutes, toes, feet and anything I could think might However, my experience and subsequent research have revealed a more complex picture when it comes to stretching and shin splints.

Let's dive into the role of stretching in shin splint recovery and why it's just one piece of the puzzle.

Woman s calves for shin splint pain can be effective for helping get rid of pain

The Role of Stretching in Shin Splint Recovery

Along with calf raises for shin splints, stretching can play a supportive role in managing shin splints. It can help alleviate tension in the muscles surrounding the shin, improve flexibility, and potentially reduce some of the discomfort associated with shin splints. Common stretches for shin splints often target the calf muscles, tibialis anterior, and plantar fascia.

However, it's crucial to understand that while stretching may provide temporary relief, it's not a cure-all for shin splints.

Why Stretching Alone Isn't Enough

I spent months convinced that my shin splints were a mobility and flexibility issue.

I diligently performed every foot, toe, calf, hamstring, and ankle stretch or mobility drill I could think of. Despite my efforts, I got no relief, and my shins continued to hurt when I ran or played basketball.

What I now know is that stretching alone is not going to resolve shin splints. While incorporating specific stretches into your routine can help alleviate tension, improve flexibility, and support the healing process, it will not fix your pain or solve the root cause of the issue.

Shin splints are a tendon/enthesis irritation injury caused by an overload that likely stems from a strength deficit or training load mismanagement. This means that while stretching can be beneficial, it needs to be part of a more comprehensive treatment approach.

Complementary Exercises for Shin Splints

To effectively treat shin splints, you need to address the underlying causes. This often involves strengthening exercises, particularly for the calf muscles and tibialis posterior. Some effective exercises include:

  1. Seated calf isometric holds
  2. Calf raises (both seated and standing)
  3. Toe walks
  4. Ankle alphabet exercises
  5. Single-leg exercises for strength and balance
  6. Full body strengthening particularly squats and core strength work

The Importance of Strength Training

Strength training is crucial in both preventing and recovering from shin splints. It helps build resilience in the muscles and tendons, improving their ability to handle the stresses of running and other high-impact activities.

Focus on exercises that target not just the lower leg, but the entire lower body. This includes squats, single leg exercises like lunges and rear foot elevated split squats, deadlifts, and hip strengthening exercises specifically for the glute med muscles, a key stabiliser when we run. A strong foundation can significantly reduce your risk of developing shin splints.

Balancing Stretching with Other Recovery Techniques

While stretching shouldn't be your only tool for managing shin splints, it can be effectively combined with other recovery techniques. Consider incorporating:

  1. Ice therapy: Apply ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes several times a day, especially after activity.
  2. Foam rolling: This can help hugely for shin splint pain. Rolling releases tension in the calf muscles and surrounding tissues.
  3. Proper warmup: Incorporate dynamic stretches and activation exercises before training.
  4. Gradual load management: Avoid sudden spikes in running volume or intensity over weeks and months.
  5. Proper footwear: Ensure you're wearing appropriate shoes for your foot type and activity.

When to Incorporate Stretches in Your Routine

While stretching alone won't cure shin splints, it can still be a valuable part of your recovery and maintenance routine when used appropriately. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Pre-workout: Focus on dynamic stretches to warm up the muscles without overstretching.
  2. Post-workout: This is a good time for static stretches, holding each stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  3. Throughout the day: If you spend a lot of time sitting, taking stretch breaks can help maintain flexibility.
  4. Before bed: Light stretching in the evening can help relax muscles and potentially improve sleep quality.

Remember, the key is to listen to your body. If a stretch causes pain, back off or consult with a professional.

The best shin splint stretches

We have created a simple an effective routine for developing flexibility in the calves, ankles and feet, you can follow along in this video.

Shin splints can be a frustrating injury, but with the right approach, you can overcome them. While stretching has its place in shin splint management, it's most effective when combined with strength training, proper load management, and other recovery techniques. By taking a comprehensive approach, you'll be well on your way to beating shin splints for good.

For personalised guidance on managing your shin splints, including a tailored stretching and strengthening program, don't hesitate to reach out. I'd be happy to help you get back to pain-free training!

Email coach Jacob here →

Remember, every athlete is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. It's always best to consult with a healthcare professional or experienced coach to develop a plan that's right for you.