All About Shin Splints

Nothing scares a fitness enthusiast quite like the thought of getting injured. Due to this fear, developing shin splints is probably in the “Top Ten Things That Would Make Me Cry” list of anyone who loves engaging in physical activity. If overlooked, this nagging injury can elevate from very minor to debilitating pain in no time. Knowing how to avoid shin splints will keep you more consistent in the fitness game.


Ben Franklin’s saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds very true when it comes to activity-related injuries. Injuries are obviously inconvenient and can set you back on the road to achieving your goals. Aside from your health, injuries will rob you of your time and money spent going to orthopedic doctors, chiropractors and/or physical therapists. Shin splints are a chronic injury as opposed to acute — this means they develop over time. Since chronic injuries are not abrupt they can always be avoided.

What are Shin Splints?

The medical name for shin splints is “medial tibial stress syndrome” — this means just to the inside of your shin bone is under too much stress, resulting in pain and inflammation. Over time the stress to the calf muscles forces it to pull away from the bone, severely aggravating the periosteum (the outermost layer of your bones).

The pathology of this injury starts with faulty biomechanics in the feet and ankles. This can be caused by genetic structural problems (flat feet), supinated feet (unusually high arches) calf tightness, or a slew of other less-than-desirable physical traits. Your feet are designed to evenly displace force, but when imbalances are present they act as roadblocks, redirecting more force toward one area. Most people develop shin splints soon after they start exercising following a break. This means the imbalances existed, but they did not notice due to a lack of physical activity.

Structural Balance

Whole body structural balance should be employed in every exercise program. This means a healthy dose of mobility, stability, flexibility and balance work should be prescribed alongside strength training. Proper biomechanics are of the utmost importance while executing exercises and stretches. Incorporating foam rolling, mobility drills and static stretching can nearly guarantee that you will stay shin splint-free. 

Foam Rolling

I could go on for days about the benefits of foam rolling (instead of listening to me rant, check out Kenny Hager’s informative foam rolling article). In regards to shin splints, balancing the tension of your lower leg muscles and other connective tissue is the most important thing. Roll each gastrocnemius – calf muscle – back and forth with as much pressure as possible without causing pain. Also roll out your anterior tibialis – the font of your calf, just outside your shin bone, and peroneal muscles – the outside of your calf. Normally 10-20 rolls per muscle is sufficient, and can be used prior to, and after strength training. The most important part of foam rolling is consistency; one bout of foam rolling will not fix your problems. It has to be a habit.


Tight calves are very common among the active population. Overtraining, injury and/or faulty biomechanics can all contribute to tight calves. To test your calf tightness, sit down with your legs straight out in front of you. Loop a belt or towel around the ball of your foot and pull back toward your body. Do you feel tightness of the back of your calf? If so, add this stretch to your post-exercise routine. Hold the stretch 20-30 seconds for three repetitions on each leg.


While testing for calf flexibility some of you will not feel calf tightness; instead your ankle will feel “stuck.” This represents a lack of joint mobility (often misconstrued as muscle tightness). Limited mobility means that the small bones in your ankles are not articulating together the way they should. The half kneeling ankle mobility drill is a great start for those of you lacking mobility.

Start in the half kneeling position – on one knee with the opposite foot in front of you. Gently rock your weight forward, pushing your knee toward and past your toes. Hold a dowel directly in front of your big toe to guide your movement. Unlike static stretching, you should not hold mobility drills. Rock gently to the point of being “stuck” and then rock back to neutral. Do this 10-20 times on each ankle prior to strength training. To increase difficulty, perform this drill without shoes, making sure your arch does not collapse. An alternative is to wear minimalist shoes, which have been shown to help you disperse weight more evenly.


Originally posted 2013-10-31 11:19:06.


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