Stretches to Ease and Prevent Shin Splints

Shin splint stretches are used to prevent and treat pain or tenderness along the pain on the inside of your shinbone, or shin splints. Shin splints are a common problem for runners, joggers, and basketball players. Stretching can help to prevent shin splints and ease the pain.

Exercises to prevent shin splints include walking on your toes and walking on your heels. Several stretches can also help relieve medial tibial stress syndrome—the medical term for shin splints.

This article discusses shin splint stretches and exercises to prevent shin splints. It provides eight science-backed exercises to ease shin splint pain and explains how to prevent them.

Seated 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 use it to pull your foot to a totally flexed position.
  • Keep your legs flat on the floor. The motion should only be at your ankle joints.
  • Stay in the flexed position for 30 seconds.

Frequency:

  • Repeat this stretch five times.
  • Do this three times per day.

The Next Step

Once you've mastered the stretch of the calf muscle in the back of your leg, it's time to strengthen your shin and ankle in the front of the leg.

Perform the same movements, but loop a resistance band around the front of your foot. Loop the other end of the band around a table or chair leg.

  • Repeat this exercise five times.
  • Do this three times per day.

Recap

Start by looping a rope or towel around your foot to stretch your calf muscle. Then, when you're ready, move on to using a resistance band to stretch the muscles in the front of your leg.

Toe Walking to Stretch, Strengthen

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

To do the toe walking exercise:

  • Stand in place and rise up onto your toes with your heels off of the floor.
  • Try to hold the position for 10 seconds.
  • Slowly lower your heels back to the floor.

If you feel pain during this exercise, stop. If your shin splints are caused by an overworked muscle, using that muscle could make them worse. In this case, standing on your toes may be very uncomfortable. Listen to your body and proceed gently.

Frequency:

  • Start with 3 sets of 10 exercises.
  • Increase to 3 sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this 3 times per day.

The Next Step

Once you've 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. Walk another 25 yards.
  • Keep your heels off the floor.

Frequency:

  • Start with three sets of 10 exercises.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this three times per day.

After you've mastered walking on your toes, you can move on to high-impact exercises like jogging or skipping. Be sure to do them on grass or other soft surfaces.

Heel Walking to Stretch, Strengthen

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

To do the heel walking exercise:

  • Stand in place and lift the front of your foot off of the floor. Keep your heels on the floor.
  • As long as you're not in pain, try to hold the position for 10 seconds.
  • Slowly lower the front of your foot back to the floor.

Frequency:

  • Start with three sets of 10 exercises.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this three times per day.

The Next Step

Once you've 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. Walk another 25 yards.
  • Keep the front of your foot off of the floor.

Frequency:

  • Start with three sets of 10 exercises.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this three times per day.

Recap

Once you can stand on your heels for 10 seconds, you can move on to walking on your heels.

Standing Ankle Dorsiflexion Stretch

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

To do the standing ankle dorsiflexion stretch:

  • Stand facing a wall.
  • Keep your knee straight and your heel on the floor.
  • Place the front bottom part of your foot against the wall. You'll 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.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this three times per day.

Straight Knee Calf Wall Stretch

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

To do the straight knee calf wall stretch:

  • Stand with your body square to the wall.
  • Stretch out your arms and hands and lean against the wall.
  • Keep one knee straight with your heel and foot firmly on the floor. Gently lean forward until you feel a pull in the back of your leg.
  • When your knee is straight, this stretches the superficial calf muscle, called the gastrocnemius.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.

Frequency:

  • Repeat this stretch five times.
  • Do this three times per day.

Bent Knee Calf Wall Stretch

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

To do the bent knee calf wall stretch:

  • Stand facing a wall with your body square to the wall.
  • Stretch out your arms and hands and lean against the wall.
  • Keep one knee bent with your heel and foot firmly on the floor. Gently lean forward until you feel a pull in the back of your leg.
  • When your knee is bent, this stretches the deep calf muscle, called the soleus.

Frequency:

  • Repeat this stretch five times.
  • Do this three times per day.

Recap


Leaning against a wall can help you can do effective bent and straight knee calf stretches.

Wall Toe Raises for Strengthening

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

To do the wall toe raising exercise:

  • Stand with your back against a wall.
  • Keep your heels on the floor and raise the front of your foot up toward the front of your lower leg.
  • Hold that position for 10 seconds.
  • Lower your foot back down so that it almost touches the floor.

Frequency:

  • Start with three sets of 10 exercises.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this three times per day.

The Next Step

Once you've mastered this exercise with both feet, do the exercise one leg at a time.

Another variation 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.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this three times per day.

Recap

Once you can easily do this exercise with both feet, you can try doing it with one foot at a time.

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.

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

  • Stand comfortably with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a normal-sized step forward with one leg and let your heel touch the floor. Stop before the front bottom part of your foot touches the floor.
  • 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 as when you started.

Frequency:

  • Start with three sets of 10 exercises.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this three times per day.

The Next Step

Once you have mastered a normal size step, take a much larger step. If that becomes easy, progress to using a step stool.

  • Stand with both feet on the step stool.
  • Step down off the stool with one foot.
  • 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.
  • Increase to three sets of 30 exercises.
  • Do this 3 times per day.

Recap

Foot step holds help strengthen the muscles in the front of your lower legs. To make this exercise more challenging, increase the length of your steps.

Summary

Shin splints are common in runners and other athletes. Fortunately, there are a number of exercises that can help treat or prevent them. These exercises help stretch and strengthen the muscles of the calf and shin. 

Start with the easiest version of each exercise and move on to the more challenging version when you feel like you're ready. Stop if you feel pain. 

A Word From Verywell

Shin splints can disrupt even the most motivated runner. Ideally, you'd prevent them from happening at all, but that's not always possible.

You can reduce your risk of shin splints in ways other than stretching:

  • Try to run on soft surfaces
  • Get adequate rest between runs
  • Try to avoid heel striking and toe running, especially when running downhill

Other things can make a difference, too. For example, a 2019 study notes the importance of "kinematics." This is how runners place their feet when running. Kinematics can play an important role in preventing and recovering from shin splints.

If you're living with shin splints or trying to avoid them in the future, it's a good idea to connect with a physical therapist. Look for someone who has experience helping athletes with this distressing condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does foam rolling help shin splints?

    Possibly, but only when used before exercise. According to a 2019 meta-analysis, there is limited evidence to support the use of foam rolling to prevent or treat any sports injury. However, the study authors report that foam rolling may be beneficial when used pre-workout as part of a warm-up.

  • Do compression socks help shin splints?

    Maybe. Compression socks or compression sleeves are commonly recommended to help ease the pain of shin splints. However, the science behind the claim is purely anecdotal. A review of published literature on treatments for medial tibial stress syndrome found no evidence to support the use of compression socks for shin splints.

    That said, wearing compression socks will not cause any harm, and some people swear it helps.

  • Can shin splints be caused by shoes?

    Yes, wearing the wrong shoes for your activity can cause shin splints. For example, running in casual sneakers without arch support. Old running shoes that have lost their cushioning or are worn down on one side can also lead to shin splints.

5 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. Reshef N, Guelich DR. Medial tibial stress syndrome. Clin Sports Med. 2012;31(2):273-90. doi:10.1016/j.csm.2011.09.008

  2. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Shin splints - self care.

  3. Okunuki T, Koshino Y, Yamanaka M, et al. Forefoot and hindfoot kinematics in subjects with medial tibial stress syndrome during walking and running. J. Orthop. Res. 2019;37(4):927-932. doi:10.1002/jor.24223

  4. Wiewelhove T, Döweling A, Schneider C, et al. A meta-analysis of the effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery. Front Physiol. 2019;10:376. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00376

  5. Winters M, Eskes M, Weir A, Moen MH, Backx FJ, Bakker EW. Treatment of medial tibial stress syndrome: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2013;43(12):1315–33. doi:10.1007/s40279-013-0087-0

By Terence Vanderheiden, DPM
Terence Vanderheiden, DPM, is a podiatrist in Massachusetts with a subspecialty in the area of podiatric sports medicine.