Exercises For Your Shin Splints
Shin splints are a type of overuse inflammatory condition that often flares up during rapid changes in activity levels. Commonly, it is an inflammation of the posterior tibialis tendon. However, if not managed properly and quickly – often with shin splints specific exercises like in this article – it can develop into an inflammation of the shin bone in your lower leg. This type of inflammation can lead to a stress fracture.
Who deals with shin splints?
Shin splints are the bane of many runners’ existence. It often feels like a right of passage through every pre-race build up to go through managing a bout of shin splints.
But it isn’t just runners that deal with this painful condition. Many team sport athletes struggle with this injury at periods of high running or impact during pre-season. Or, when surfaces change from outdoor grass fields to indoor hard courts, shin splints have a tendency to flare up as well.
Symptoms & Diagnosing
Typically, the pain location is along the inside edge of your shin bone, it will be painful to touch and press on, and it will hurt most with impact like running, jumping or cutting.
Shin splints can often be self diagnosed based upon symptoms that you’re experiencing. A physical therapist can properly diagnose them, as well as guide you through shin splints exercises like the ones we list here in this article to help you manage your shin splints pain.
To learn more about the specific types of “shin splints” and how to diagnose and manage them, I highly recommend listening to our podcast with Dr. Sydney Cope where she goes into great detail on how shin splints start, what causes them, and what you should do about them.
What can you do about them?
Managing shin splints requires a comprehensive approach of specific exercises to target the musculature around the foot and lower leg, exercises that target any deficit in the kinetic chain (like hip weakness or ankle range of motion restriction), and load management.
It is possible to continue training while you manage your shin splints, but it may take some compromises. Typically, activity with a lot of impact is the most provocative and irritating thing for your legs when managing shin splints. Early on, you will likely need to decrease the amount of impact activity each week.
For a runner, that could look like keeping your speed work but modifying to a non-impact cross training workout for your long run, like biking, going on the elliptical or swimming.
For a field sport athlete, it may require a reduction in overall practice time. This could be accomplished by taking 1-2 practices/week off, or only taking 50% of your normal reps at each practice. We recommend supplementing decreased practice time with extra non-impact conditioning (like biking) to maintain your fitness levels while you’re reducing your practice time.
As the pain from shin splints begins to subside, impact volume needs to be gradually increased back to normal levels following a structured and monitored plan.
Initially when managing shin splints, you want to start working on loading the posterior tibialis tendon and muscle, improving plantar flexor strength and working on foot control. These give a lot of support to your shins and will help ease the stress they are experiencing.
- Split Squat Isometric Heel Raise
- Foot Arch Raise
Split Squat Isometric Heel Raise
This exercise is designed to start loading the lower limb muscles to build strength and help decrease pain.
Foot Arch Raise
You also want to start working on your foot’s intrinsic strength. The stronger your foot is, the more it can help your shin muscles absorb force during impact activities.
During this phase, you also want to address any hip strength deficits and ankle range of motion limitations.
- Single Leg Isometric Push
- Pogo Hops
Single Leg Isometric Push
This exercise will allow you to start working on max force through the foot and lower leg. This will help improve the structural tolerance, force production and prepare the leg to handle the high forces with impact activities like running, jumping and cutting.
As your shin pain starts to decrease, you need to start progressing the lower legs tolerance to impact. However, running and cutting are single leg impact activities. Starting an impact progression with two footed exercises will be significantly less stress on the lower leg. This allows you to accumulate impact volume without significant pain and slowly progress the intensity of the impact activity as your pain levels allow.
Overall, shin splints are a nuisance, but they are manageable with a proper plan that includes exercise, impact modification and a gradual progression back to your previous level of training.
If you have been dealing with shin splints and feel like you don’t have a plan, reach out today to schedule a free consultation. You’ll be able to meet with one of our therapists, talk through your specific case and get a plan on exactly what you need to do to get back to your sport without pain.