Home Remedies for Shin Splints
You exercised because it’s good for you, and in return you got an excruciating
pain in your shin. For immediate relief, your best bets are ice and an over-thecounter
pain reliever such as ibuprofen or aspirin to ease the tenderness and swelling. You’ll also want to change your exercise habits. Runners usually develop
shin splints when they’ve been running on hard surfaces or when they’ve been
faithful to worn-out running shoes for too long. Stretching is essential, and so is
moderation, if you want to prevent recurrent pain.
If you run regularly or do any kind of exercise that hammers the lower leg,
there’s a chance you’ll develop shin splints. During exercise, muscles in the
lower leg swell and press against the gap formed by the tibia and fibula, the
bones that extend from the knee to the ankle. This pressure irritates nearby
muscles, tendons, or ligaments, causing pain along the outer calf (anterior shin
splints) or inner calf (posterior shin splints). Posterior shin splints are common
among people with flat feet, because leg muscles have to work hard to support
the foot’s arch.
Numb the Pain
• Ice the injured shin to bring down swelling and dull the pain. Use a flexible
ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables and keep it on for up to 20 minutes. To
make sure you don’t get frostbite, put a towel between the ice pack and your
• Instead of an ice pack, you can apply a lump of ice. Freeze water in a foam
cup, then peel away the cup and press the solid ice to the shin. As the ice melts,
just peel away more of the cup. If you use this method, however, limit
applications to under 8 minutes at a time. And give the chilled skin a chance to
warm up before you apply that ice a second or third time.
Stretch the Point
• Sit or lie down with your knees slightly bent. Flex the foot of the painful
leg up and down, in and out, and in circles. Your leg should remain still. Repeat
each motion ten times.
• For a leg stretch that relieves pain, start out in a seated position on the floor.
Keep the painful leg outstretched, and the knee slightly bent. Loop a towel
around the ball of your foot and, with the knee still bent, gently pull the towel
toward your body. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times.
• As a follow-up, stand and place your hands against the wall at eye level. Keep
your painful shin back, with the heel on the floor, and the uninjured shin
forward. Turn your back foot slightly inward, as if you were pigeon-toed. Slowly
lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold for 15 to
• Repeat the same standing stretch, but this time cross the back leg behind the
front one so most of your weight is on the outside edges of your feet. Hold for
15 to 30 seconds.
• In a standing position, with one hand against a wall or chair for balance,
bend the knee of your injured leg and grab the top of your foot. Pull the toes of
that foot toward the heel to create a stretch in the front part of your shin. Hold
for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
• Holding a chair or counter for balance, rise up onto your toes, hold for 5
seconds, then come down slowly. Repeat 10 times. Then do two more sets of 10.
• Alternate walking on your heels for 30 seconds with 30 seconds of regular
walking. Repeat four times.
Should I call the doctor?
You can usually treat shin splints on your own. But if the pain lingers for more
than three weeks, give your doctor a call. You may need further evaluation or
treatment by a podiatrist or orthopedist, especially if he or she suspects you
have a stress fracture. Though it’s just a tiny crack in the bone, a stress fracture
usually causes pain in a small area inside the shinbone, accompanied by swelling
and tenderness. It can get much worse without treatment. To positively identify
a stress fracture, the doctor will probably have to do an X ray or other imaging
The Power of Prevention
• It’s vitally important to stretch your calf muscles before you exercise.
Whether you’re running, doing aerobics, or playing a fast-action team sport,
consult with a trainer or doctor to find out what type of leg stretches are most
appropriate. Then do them religiously before and after each workout.
• Choose the softest available surface for exercise. If you run, use a dirt or
cinder track rather than concrete sidewalks. If you do aerobics, use a soft mat
instead of a hard floor.
• Buy well-cushioned shoes with excellent arch support. Ask a podiatrist about
arch supports or heel inserts.
• When you’re buying sports shoes, get advice about what kinds are best
for your feet. For instance, if you roll your ankles inward (this is called
pronation) when you run, it forces your tendons to compensate, increasing your
risk of shin splints. You need shoes that help correct for that tendency.
• If you are a regular runner, buy a new pair of running shoes before the old
ones have a chance to wear out. If you run more than 25 miles per week, you’ll
probably need new shoes every 2 or 3 months. Even if you run less than that, it’s
a good idea to check the wear on your shoes after 4 months or so.
• Anyone with flat feet should visit a runner’s specialty store for proper
footwear. You want to make sure you have adequate cushioning and shockabsorbing