Many active people experience shin splints, a type of injury caused by overuse and stress. Foot and ankle stretches can help improve movement, which may help prevent shin splints.

Shin splints are a throbbing pain along the inner front of the lower leg, where the muscles attach to the shinbone. The pain usually concentrates between the knee and the ankle.

The medical term for shin splints is medial tibial stress syndrome.

Shin splints often occur in athletes, military recruits, dancers, and those involved in high-impact activities. This is due to the intense training routines leading to the overuse of the muscles.

There is no known cure for shin splints. Taking rest and reducing activity levels if a person has advanced them too quickly are the only current recommendations to help heal the condition over time.

Foot and ankle stretches can improve how a person moves during athletic activity, and they may help prevent future recurrences of shin splints.

In this article, we look at the 8 best ankle and foot stretches to improve athletic movement, which may prevent shin splints.

a person suffering from a shin splint stretches their lower leg and holds it with both handsShare on Pinterest
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The exact cause of shin splints is unknown. The leading theory is that the condition is due to the combination of pulling on the periosteum (bone covering) by the calf muscles, with repetitive bending or loading across the shin bone, known as the tibia.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, shin splints often occur after sudden changes in physical activity.

The most common symptoms of shin splints include:

  • dispersed pain in the front lower leg
  • tenderness or soreness along the inner part of the lower leg
  • muscle pain

Stretching out the ankle and foot muscles may improve how a person moves during activities, which may help reduce shin splints.

However, it is important to remember that multiple factors can trigger shin splints.

A person should ask a physical therapist or doctor to evaluate their symptoms if they continue to experience shin splints.

Here are 8 shin splint stretches that could help improve movement:

Calf raises

Calf raises help strengthen the calf muscles, which may relieve shin splint pain. A person can perform this exercise using a step stool or on a flat surface.

  1. Stand on a flat surface with the feet flat.
  2. Shifting the weight on to the balls of the feet and mid-foot, lift the heels slowly, hold them for 10–20 seconds, and bring them back down.
  3. Repeat for 3–5 minutes.
  4. Switch legs and repeat the stretch on the other side, if desired.
  5. Repeat twice a day.

Kneeling shin stretch

This stretch aims to work the front of the anterior tibialis muscle to relieve shin pain.

  1. Kneel and sit down gently, so the knees are in front of the body with the heels beneath the glutes.
  2. Lean back and place the hands on the floor behind.
  3. Using the body weight, push down the heels gently to feel the stretch while lifting the knees to increase pressure.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times a day.

Seated shin stretch

This stretch targets the anterior tibialis muscle at the front of the leg.

  1. Sit on a chair and lower one knee until it extends in front of the other and the toe extends into the ground.
  2. Gently shift the body weight forward with the toe planted on the ground until there is a stretch in the shin.
  3. Hold for 15–20 seconds, then repeat three to five times.
  4. Switch legs and perform the stretch on the other side, if desired.
  5. Repeat several times daily.

Gastrocnemius calf stretch

This exercise targets muscles at the back of the lower leg.

  1. Stand facing the wall or a closed door with both hands against the wall.
  2. Step one foot behind the other, keeping it flat on the floor and pointed straight.
  3. Bend the front knee to feel the stretch while keeping the back straight.
  4. Hold the stretch for 20–30 seconds and repeat the exercise two to three times.
  5. Switch legs and repeat the stretch on the other side, if desired.
  6. Repeat three times a day.

Soleus calf stretch

This stretch targets calf muscles at the back of the leg above the ankle, below the gastrocnemius.

  1. Stand with the hands against the wall or door.
  2. Step one foot behind while keeping the foot flat and pointed straight.
  3. Slightly bend the front knee.
  4. Bend the back knee with the back heel planted firmly on the ground.
  5. Hold the stretch for 20–30 seconds and repeat 2–3 times.
  6. Switch legs and repeat the stretch on the other side, if desired.
  7. Repeat three times a day.

Tibialis anterior muscle stretch

This stretch targets the front of the tibia muscle.

  1. Kneel on the floor with the tops of the feet facing down on the floor.
  2. Place the hands in front while pointing slightly inwards.
  3. Lean forward, putting weight on the hands, and raise the body while keeping the feet in contact with the floor to feel the stretch.
  4. Hold the stretch for 15–30 seconds and repeat 2–3 times.

Achilles tendon standing stretch

This stretch targets the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles connected to the Achilles tendon.

  1. Using a step stool, step, or a curb, stand with the balls of the feet on the edge of the surface. Hold on to something heavy for balance, such as a piece of furniture, gym equipment, or railing.
  2. Let one foot hang off until a person feels a stretch at the back of the leg.
  3. Hold for 20–30 seconds.
  4. Switch legs, if desired.
  5. Repeat the exercise up to five times a day.

Towel stretch

The towel stretch targets the calf muscles attached to the heel via the Achilles tendon.

  1. Sit on the floor with the legs stretched out in front.
  2. Loop a towel around the ball of the foot and pull gently towards the body while keeping the leg straight.
  3. Hold for 25–30 seconds and repeat three times.
  4. Repeat several times each day.

Experts state shin splints are an overuse injury, and that the condition is due to a person performing physical or athletic activity too much, too fast, too soon.

Several methods may prevent or reduce the risk of shin splints. However, most studies cannot definitively conclude they stop or decrease occurrences.

These techniques include:

Footwear choice

Wearing well-fitting athletic shoes can help prevent shin splints.

Shoes with a cushioned insole and a sturdy heel provide good stability and tolerable impact on the shins during exercise.

It is important to replace shoes after every 350–500 miles of wear, or when they begin to show signs of wear, such as an uneven wearing of the soles.

Orthotics

Orthotics are custom-made shoes or insoles that match the foot structure.

A professional, such as a podiatrist, can assess a person’s need for orthotics for comfort and correction based on any abnormalities in foot structure, gait, or biomechanics.

Medical professionals recommend orthotics to prevent shin splints and other health conditions.

Exercise

Exercises, such as strengthening the ankles, feet, hips, and core, can prevent shin splints by preparing the legs to deal with high impact during training.

Warming up and cooling down is crucial to preventing many injuries, including shin splints.

It is important to perform dynamic stretches or jumping exercises to warm up, with static stretches to cool down.

Cross-training activities, such as swimming, walking, biking, and yoga, can reduce the impact on shins.

Maintaining a healthful weight can also reduce the risk of the condition.

Recovery time for shin splints varies depending on the age, health, and condition of a person.

Usually, they take 1–3 months to heal completely. However, for those with significant impairments, recovery may take longer.

Once a person recovers fully from shin pain, they can resume training, and start at a low intensity and gradually build up. Otherwise, shin splints may return.

Experiencing shin pain or pain in the lower leg doesn’t always mean a person has shin splints. It could be a sign of another problem.

Some other likely causes include:

  • Stress fracture: These occur due to muscle overuse — when the muscles can no longer absorb stress, it causes shin pain.
  • Bone fracture: A fracture in the shinbone may trigger shin pain.
  • Fibrous dysplasia: A noncancerous bone condition can cause pain in the shin.
  • Compartment syndrome: A condition that triggers swelling and pain in the lower leg.
  • Minor injuries: Injuries to the shinbone can also cause recurrent pain.

Shin splints can cause pain, which may stop a person from participating in certain activities.

However, shin splint stretches may help ease this pain and reduce the risk of injury returning.

People should note that experiencing shin pain does not always indicate shin splints.

If a person experiences prolonged issues with shin pain that does not go away with regular stretching and rest, they should speak with a doctor.

A healthcare professional can diagnose the condition and design a proper treatment plan.