Shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome, is a painful inflammatory condition marked by nagging pain across the tibia — the large bone in the front of the lower leg (a.k.a. the shinbone).
The pain is caused by overuse or injury to the fibers that connect the soleus (one of the calf muscles) to the tibia, explains Francesca Conte, PhD, a pro ultramarathoner, running coach, race director, and co-owner of Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports in Charlottesville, Va.
Although many people experience shin splints after running, the running itself might not be the cause. Rather, heavy heel-striking, downhill striding, poor form, or ramping up your workouts too quickly — going from couch to 5K in one day, for instance — can all be factors.
To help stave off shin splints, Conte recommends doing the following exercises three times a week to stretch and strengthen the lower-leg muscles.
- Standing with the balls of your feet on a step or sturdy box, drop your heels until they fall below the step.
- Reverse the movement, rising to your tiptoes.
- Perform one to three sets of 10 reps, resting one minute between sets.
- While standing or seated, place a towel under your bare feet.
- Curl your toes around the towel, then release.
- Repeat for about one minute, then rest.
- Continue with one minute on, one minute off for as long as you comfortably can, for up to 30 minutes.
- Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground, raise your hips until they form a straight line between your shoulders and knees.
- Extend one leg in line with your knee and hold the position for 10 seconds, or as long as you can with proper form.
- Return your foot to the floor, and repeat the exercise on the other side.
- Repeat three times per leg, alternating sides and resting as needed. Work up to holding each rep for 30 seconds.