Best Exercises for Shin Splints

As you know, I just finished up the Injury of the Month focusing on shin splint exercises.

Creating the program was a lot of fun and it is always great to look at what I do, what I have learned working with people with shin splints and compare this with the research.

I wanted to highlight a few very cool things that I learned when it related to exercises for shin splints.

Before I get into the details, let’s start with a definition of shin splints.

What are Shin Splints?

Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) is an overuse injury or repetitive-stress injury of the shin area. Various stress reactions of the tibia and surrounding musculature occur when the body is unable to heal properly in response to repetitive muscle contractions and tibial strain.” – Galbraith 2009

There was a lot of reference to Medial Tibial Stress Styndome (MTSS) in the research.  Along with MTSS, there were 13 other names that referred to shin splints.  Now that is a little confusing.  It would nice if everyone stuck to one.

Now that we have the definition out of the way, here are a few things that I learned about shin splints when digging in the research.

Orthotics Increases Your Risk of Getting Shin Splints

This was a bit of a shock.

This statement took a little figuring out.

We all know that with medications, they all have side effects. Medication will solve one problem but often times creates another.

It looks like orthotics are the same. The use of orthotics may solve one problem but increase your risk of getting shin splints.

Very interesting.

Let me dig into things a little further.

Athletes that use orthotics have a greater risk of getting shin splints (Hubbard 2009).

Something to keep in mind if you are an athlete or work with athletes.

In military recruits, about 4% of them will get shin splints (Herring 2006).  This is a lot of people that are injured.  The military has spent a lot of money on research, trying to find out what to do for new military recruits that enter basic training.  The recommendation that the research came up with was to use a shock absorbing insole in order to decrease the risk of shin splints.

Remember, if you are a runner, when your running shoes hit about a 250 to 500 miles, the

absorption of the shoes has decreased by 40%.

All of this makes sense looking at the definition, above.

Summary of Shin Splints and Footwear:

  • A rigid orthotic increases the stress on the shin area which increases the risk of shin splints.
  • The boots that military recruits are given and the  surface they mainly walk on is very firm which leads to increased stress on the shin area, which leads to greater risk of shin splints.
  • Lastly, looking at runners, as the mileage increases on their shoes, there is less shock absorption which leads to greater stress on the shin and an increase in shin splints.

No Evidence for Shin Splint Stretching

I was kind of surprised about this, but there was no evidence supporting shin splint stretching or tibialis anterior stretching.

Very interesting.

Plus there was no evidence on the benefit of foam rolling the shins for shin splints.

That being said, I did include them in the Shin Splints Solved program.

I put them in stage 1 of the program as I feel they are good for countering the tension that builds up in tibialis anterior and helps with pain management.

The Best Exercises for Shin Splints are….

This was another surprise for me.

The most common recommendations that people are given for shin splints is to stretch the shin, roll the shin and decrease training but that is not a long term solution.

It makes sense.

If running hurts, doing some stretching is not going to lead to having your shin splints go away and get you back to running again.

The stretching and rolling will help with initial recovery and pain management but will not be the key thing to get you back to running.

If you search the internet for exercises for shin splints, you will see stretching and toe wiggling exercises are the preferred exercise.  (Note – Just because it is the most popular recommendation does not mean it is the right recommendation.)

In a 2008 study by Dr. Debbie Craig, she recommended to “increase the strength and endurance of the soleus muscle.”

This is hard to do with stretching, foam rolling and toe wiggling exercise.

But you can do it with plyometrics.

Recommended Exercises for Shin Splints

  • Doing stage 1 exercises that focus on recovery, pain management and introducing plyometric movements.
  • Moving onto stage 2 exercises which focus on strengthening the ankle, challenging the hip and performing exercises that prepare the body for plyometrics.
  • The last stage (#3) is introducing plyometrics exercises.

There you go.  A new exercise program for shin splints.

References for Exercises for Shin Splints

Here are the references for what I talk about above.  In Shin Splints Solved, I have a full list of the 18 research papers that I referenced in the program plus there are links to the abstracts and a few of the full articles, for those that like to dig in the research (like me).

Craig DI. (2008). Medial tibial stress syndrome: evidence-based prevention. J Athl Train. 2008 May-Jun;43(3):316-8.

Galbraith RM, Lavallee ME. (2009). Medial tibial stress syndrome: conservative treatment options. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2009 Oct 7;2(3):127-33.

Herring KM. (2006). A plyometric training model used to augment rehabilitation from tibial fasciitis. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2006 May;5(3):147-54. 

Hubbard TJ, Carpenter EM, Cordova ML. (2009). Contributing factors to medial tibial stress syndrome: a prospective investigation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):490-6.

I hope this was a benefit to you as much as it was a benefit to me.

If you are interested in the Shin Splints Solved program you can check it out here.

Just a reminder of what you get with the Shin Splints Solved program

In the Shin Splints Solved Program you will get:

  1. A comprehensive video presentation that gives you all you need to know when it comes to shin splints and tells you what you need to do to overcome shin splints.
  2. A researched back exercise program with over 29 shin splint exercises with descriptions and photos.
  3. Then you will get videos of all of the exercises which will show you how to do the exercise right so you can get maximal benefit from the program.

That is it, have a great day.

Rick Kaselj, MS