7 Stretches for Shin Splints That Can Help Your Legs Feel Way Better

If you’re a runner, shin splints have probably ruined your day—or thwarted a workout—at one point or another. While not a magical cure-all, stretches for shin splints can play a big role in warding off the problem (and may help you ease the pain, too).

Shin splints are generally considered an overuse injury, and are often triggered by high-impact activities like running or HIIT training, Kat Torre, DPT, CSCS, an RRCA-certified run coach and co-owner of Pure Sports Physical Therapy in Washington, DC, tells SELF. The repeated force with these kinds of activities causes stress on the bone and attached muscles, which can lead to irritation and pain—often of the “nagging, sometimes sharp and stabby” variety, Torre says.

You can get them in two different spots: Medial shin splints occur on the inner front part of your tibia or shin, while anterior shin splints develop on the outside front of it. Both types are usually linked to a quick increase in activity or drastic change in it. For instance, if you haven’t been running regularly then suddenly start logging 20 miles a week, or you’re hitting hill work hard when you’ve really never done it before, that can put a lot of strain on the shin bone and connected muscles, Torre says. (Unsupportive or worn out footwear can play a role too.)

Muscle imbalances (and in particular, calf tightness) in your lower legs and ankles can also contribute. “The seesaw isn’t even between the front and back, and when you pull too much in one direction, the other can get irritated,” Torre explains. Basically, if you’re running with tight calves, the opposing muscles in the front of your legs can become overworked and end up strained.

In lots of cases, the discomfort with shin splints isn’t severe enough to push you to get immediate medical attention—say, like with a stress fracture, when pain tends to be more significant and usually persists even when you’re not running. Rather, it’s more uncomfortable (which can lead you to shorten your runs or cancel them altogether), and it can feel like it just lingers and lingers.

That’s why having a plan ready can be key to stopping shin splints in their tracks. And the most effective one is multi-pronged: The first part includes a solid dose of regular strength training. The overall goal of this is to keep your glutes, hamstrings, and quads strong enough so they can take the strain off your shins and the surrounding tendons. You’ll also want to specifically strengthen the muscles in the front of your shin, which takes some of the pressure off your tibial bone and reduces pain, Torre adds. Try to fit strengthening into your workout program at least twice a week.

Then there’s the second piece of the puzzle—stretching—which plays an even bigger role if you’re already dealing with shin splint pain. Stretching regularly keeps your lower half balanced and takes the extra pressure off the front of your legs. “As far as maintenance and making sure shin splints don’t come back,” Torre says, “I can’t emphasize enough how important stretching is.” In particular, moves that target your shins and calves can play a big role in easing discomfort.

Torre recommends incorporating dynamic ankle and lower-body stretches into your running warm-ups and more static stretches into your cool-downs. Then, two to three times a week, make it a point to briefly stretch your lower legs (emphasizing your shins and calves) as a standalone routine, even if you just spend two minutes doing it—think of it as maintenance work.

Not sure which stretches for shin splints are the best for keeping the annoying condition at bay? Read on for some great ones to try—along with some tips on how to slot them into your routine.

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