Stretches to Ease and Prevent Shin Splints

There are some stretches that may help to ease the pain from or prevent shin splints, a condition referred to medically as "medial tibial stress syndrome."

Shin splints are a common problem for many people, especially runners and joggers.

Fortunately, if you suffer from shin splints, there are exercises you can do to both help ease the pain and prevent future problems. Here are nine exercises to help you stretch and strengthen your lower leg muscles

(As a quick reminder, it's important to point out that not all calf pain is shin splints and it's important to see your doctor or talk to your physical therapist to make sure you are dealing with shin splints rather than another problem.)

1

Seated Ankle Dorsiflexion and Calf Stretch

Seated ankle dorsiflexion and calf stretch to prevent shin spints
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M

For the first exercise, sit on the floor with your knees straight. Loop a rope or towel around the front of your foot and gently pull back. Move your foot up toward your shin (dorsiflexion), extending the full range of motion, and hold for 10 seconds. Then move your foot down toward the floor (plantar flexion). Keep your legs flat on the floor. The motion should only be at your ankle joints.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

Next Step

Once you have mastered the stretch, it is time to strengthen by using a resistance band. Perform the same movements, but loop a resistance band around the front of your foot and the other end of the band around a table or chair leg.

Frequency

Do three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

2

Bent Knee Ankle Dorsiflexion and Calf Stretch

Knee Bent Ankle Dorsiflexion stretch
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

For the bent knee ankle dorsiflexion and calf stretch exercise, sit on a bench or table with your knees bent and your legs hanging off the side. Bend your foot up toward your shin (dorsiflexion) and hold for 10 seconds, then lower your foot by pointing your toes back toward the floor (plantar flexion).

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

Next Step

Once you have mastered the stretch, move on to the strengthening exercise. Keep the same position as before, but this time you add a weight to your foot. Raise and lower your foot, making sure the motion is only at your ankle joint. Try not to have any motion at your knees.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

3

Toe Walking for Stretching and Strengthening

woman Standing and rising onto toes
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

The toe walking exercise begins by standing in place and rising up onto your toes with your heels off of the floor. Try to hold the position for 10 seconds and slowly lower your heels back to the floor.

Frequency

Start with 3 sets of 10 exercises and then increase to 3 sets of 30 exercises. Do this 3 times per day.

Next Step

Once you have mastered standing in one place, start walking on your toes. Start with your toes pointed straight ahead, walk about 25 yards. Next, point your toes inward and walk 25 yards. Finish by pointing your toes outward and walk 25 yards. Remember to keep your heels off the floor.

Frequency

Start with 3 sets of 10 exercises and then increase to 3 sets of 30 exercises. Do this 3 times per day.

After you have mastered walking on your toes, you can progress to high-impact exercises like jogging or skipping. Be sure to do them on soft grass or otherwise soft surfaces.

4

Heel Walking for Stretching and Strengthening

woman doing heel walking exercise
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

The heel walking exercise begins by standing in place and lifting the front of your foot off of the floor and keeping your heels on the floor. Try to hold the position for 10 seconds and then slowly lower the front of your foot back to the floor.

Frequency

Start with 3 sets of 10 exercises and then increase to 3 sets of 30 exercises. Do this 3 times per day.

Next Step

Once you have mastered standing in one place, start walking on your heels. Start with your toes pointed straight ahead, walk about 25 yards. Next, point your toes inward and walk 25 yards. Finish by pointing your toes outward and walk 25 yards. Remember to keep the front of your foot off of the floor.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

After you have mastered walking on your heels, you can progress to high-impact exercises like jogging or skipping. Be sure to do these exercises on soft grass or an equivalent soft surface.

5

Standing Ankle Dorisflexion Stretch

Standing ankle dorsiflexion stretch against wall.
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

The standing ankle dorsiflexion stretch begins by standing and facing a wall. Keep your knee straight and your heel on the floor and place the front bottom part of your foot against the wall. You will feel a stretch in your calf muscles. You could also use an inclined platform for this stretch.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

6

Straight Knee Calf Wall Stretch

Straight knee calf muscle stretch against wall.
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

The straight knee calf wall stretch begins by standing and facing a wall with your body square to the wall. Outstretch your arms and hands and lean against the wall. Keep one knee straight with your heel and foot firmly on the floor and gently lean forward until you feel a pull in the back of your leg (calf). When your knee is straight, this stretches the gastrocnemius (superficial calf muscle).

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

7

Bent Knee Calf Wall Stretch

Bent knee wall stretch for the soleus muscle.
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

The bent knee calf wall stretch also begins with standing and facing a wall with your body square to the wall. Outstretch your arms and hands and lean against the wall. Keep one knee bent with your heel and foot firmly on the floor and gently lean forward until you feel a pull in the back of your leg (calf). When your knee is bent, this stretches the soleus (deep calf muscle).

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

8

Wall Toe Raises for Strengthening

Exercise to help strengthen muscles in front of lower legs.
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

The wall toe raising exercise that helps with strengthening begins by standing with your back against a wall. Keep your heels on the floor and raise the front of your foot up (dorsiflexion) toward the front of your lower leg (shin). Hold that position for 10 seconds and then lower your foot back down so that it almost touches the floor, then begin the next exercise.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

Once you have mastered doing the exercise with both feet at the same time, start to do the exercise one leg at a time.

Another variation to try is to do quick up and downs of the foot. Remember to keep your heel firmly planted on the floor.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

9

Foot Step Holds for Strengthening

Stepping forward with heel striking the floor, but the front of the foot is held up and does not touch the floor.
Terence Vanderheiden, D.P.M.

The foot step holds exercise begins by standing comfortably with your feet shoulder-width apart. Take a normal sized step forward with one leg and let your heel touch the floor, but before the front bottom part of your foot touches the floor you need to stop. Do not let the front part of your foot hit the floor. Step back so your feet are side by side and shoulder width apart like when you started.

This exercise helps strengthen the muscles in the front of your lower legs.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this three times per day.

Larger Step Version

Once you have mastered a normal size step, take a much larger step forward. If that becomes easy, you can progress to using a step stool. You stand with both feet on the step stool and with one foot you step down off the stool, your heel should touch the floor, but you should stop before the front of your foot touches the floor.

Frequency

Start with three sets of 10 exercises and then increase to three sets of 30 exercises. Do this 3 times per day.

A Word From Verywell

Shin splints can disrupt even the most motivated runner's plans. Ideally, shin splints could be prevented from occurring in the first place but that's not always possible.

It's important to note that there are ways to reduce your risk of shin splints other than stretching. Trying to run on soft surfaces, getting adequate rest between runs, and trying to avoid heel striking and toe running (especially when running downhill) can all help reduce your risk or reduce your discomfort from shin splints.

There are other things that can make a difference as well, and if you are either living with shin splints today, or trying to avoid them in the future, it's a good idea to connect with a physical therapist who is not only knowledgable but has experience in helping other athletes with this annoying condition. For example, a 2019 study notes that the "kinematics," or how runners place their feet when running can play a significant role in both the prevention and recovery (rehabilitation) from shin splints or "medial tibial stress syndrome."

Sources:

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Shin Splints.

Arnold, M., and A. Moody. Common Running Injuries: Evaluation and Management. American Family Physician. 2018. 97(8):510-516.

Okunuki, T., Koshino, Y., Yamanaka, M. et al. Forefoot and Hindfoot Kinematics in subjects with Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome During Walking and Running. Journal of Orthopaedic Research. 2019 Jan 16. (Epub ahead of print).

.

Was this page helpful?