The Best Exercises for Shin Splints

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Have you ever experienced shin pain when going up and downhill? You may have developed shin splints, a common type of overuse injury that results from traveling too many miles when your body is not prepared for it.

Shin splints are inflammation of the muscles and tissues on the outside of the shin. These muscles help lift the toes when walking and control the speed at which the foot is brought back to the ground after contact with the heel. When muscles and tissues become inflamed, pain and discomfort occur, especially when hiking up and downhill. Although they are a common hiking injury, you can avoid them with a few simple exercises and stretches. Even if you are not prone to shin splints, these exercises offer many lower leg muscle benefits.

Strengthening the shin muscles

Try any of the following exercises to build strong shin muscles and reduce the risk of overuse injuries. These exercises work perfectly as part of a warm-up series or when resting between other exercises during a workout. For all of the listed exercises, do three sets of 15 three to four times a week.

Standing raised toes

This exercise isolates and strengthens the tibia greater, tibialis anterior, which hikers and runners need for foot control. This is the easiest of the three movements and is a great place to start building your shin muscles.

  1. Stand near a countertop to help maintain balance.
  2. Without moving your hips back, keep your heels down and your toes as high as possible. The movement is like taking your foot off the accelerator.
  3. Lower your feet to the floor in a controlled manner.

Heel gaits

This exercise focuses on endurance for the same tibia major muscle and helps build the strength needed to record climbs and the foot control required for descents.

  1. Use a hallway wall or countertop for support if necessary. Tighten your shin muscles to get your toes and balls of your feet in the air.
  2. With your toes up and heels down, walk on your heels without your toes drifting toward the ground. Continue for 15 feet.

Raised toe ridges

This exercise is the most difficult of the three because of the increased range of motion and control required. It helps build a greater range of motion for the foot, which helps maintain strength and foot control. It also helps tackle changes in terrain on a trail.

  1. Find a step 6 to 8 inches in height. Stand your heels away from the step and place your heels back a few inches from the edge so that your metatarsus and toes hang down.
  2. From this position, raise and lower your toes as much as possible while using the heel as a fulcrum.

Quite sit

Great for relaxing after a long hike or after doing the above exercises, the heel seat is perfect for stretching the tibia major.

  1. To stretch the shin muscle, kneel on the floor and sit on your heels with your feet pointing straight back. Consider using a yoga block or pillow, such as a rolled up jacket or pillow, to sit on, which could make this stretch easier.
  2. Spend 20 seconds in this stretch and repeat a total of three times, two to three times per day.

Pain relief when hiking

If you experience shin pain during the hike, try this massage technique with your trekking stick: With firm but comfortable pressure, slide the stick along the outside of the shin from below the knee to above the ankle. Apply constant pressure while moving the trekking pole along the abdomen of the tibialis anterior muscle. Spend two to five minutes doing this massage once or twice a day.

Lee Welton is a physical therapist and personal trainer based in southeast Idaho. He hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 and hiked through the Dolomites in Italy. He can usually be found hiking and exploring the trails in Idaho and Wyoming. For more information, videos and resources from Welton, visit trailsidefitness.com.

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