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Shin Splints: A step-by-step exercise treatment plan for runners

Exercises for Shin splints
Kim Van Deventer
Kim Van Deventer
Apr 16, 2024
Medically reviewed by
Maryke Louw
In this article, we dig deeper into the treatment of shin splints and provide you with a detailed rehab program, including what exercises to do and how to know when to progress.

Quick recap: Definition, causes and risk factors for shin splints

Shin splints is an overload injury of the shins, caused by too much force going through the shinbone, or when there’s repetitive tugging and pulling on the bone where the muscles attach.

Studies show most people who suffer from shin splints have the following traits in common (intrinsic factors):

  • Increased body mass (or carrying extra weight while running like in military fitness training)
  • Flatter foot arches or pronated feet
  • Muscle imbalances affecting range of movement around the hips and ankles

Interestingly, being a woman, having lower bone density, having smaller shin bones, or being vitamin D deficient also increase your likelihood of getting shin splints.

Intrinsic risk factors for developing shin spints:

High body mass, carrying heavy weights while running (ie. military fitness training)
"Flat feet"
Pronated feet
Muscle imbalances around the hips and ankles

Extrinsic risk factors for developing shin spints:

Increased running mileage or training intensity
Running on uneven terrain or hard surfaces
Inadequate warm-up or cool-down routine
Poor fitting or unsupportive shoes

Circumstances that can increase your risk of getting shin splints (extrinsic factors) include:

  • Recently increasing running mileage or training intensity
  • Running on uneven terrain or hard surfaces
  • Inadequate warm-up or cool down routine
  • Poor fitting or unsupportive shoes

Now let’s talk about treatment.

What’s the best treatment for shin splints?

Effective treatment for shin splints includes:

Rest from pain-causing activities, improvement of biomechanics (body alignment, range of movement and movement efficiency) and following a graded return-to-running program.

This combination of strategies helps to control the initial pain and inflammation associated with shin splints, promotes healing and builds up your shinbone’s strength to a level where it can tolerate a load that matches your normal running routine. This is called load management.

We discuss what a typical load management program looks like below.

Do shin splints get better with exercise?

Yes, there’s evidence that muscle strengthening, particularly your calves and hip abductors, and improving your core stability makes you more resistant to shin splints injury.

When treating shin splints, you should work on the muscles that support the foot arch (instinctive foot muscles, calf muscles) and those that align the hips and knees while running (hip abductor and core muscles).

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What are the best exercises for treating shin splints?

It depends on your stage of healing. There isn’t a definite set of exercises you should be doing. Instead, your exercise program should adapt as you recover – it should include easy, low load exercises to start with and progress to more complex, high load exercises.

You can find a typical load management program in the Exakt Health app.

The app supports you through the stages of bone healing and guides you with evidence-based advice and progressive exercises to a full recovery.

Can you still run with shin splints?

It’s not really advisable or sensible. Many people continue to run with shin splints, but if you want your shin pain to improve and not become a more serious injury, you shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, sometimes any bit of pressure through the legs can make shin splints flare up or worsen them. This makes the healing process take longer.

Best practice is to avoid running initially while keeping fit with low-impact activities like walking, swimming, aqua jogging, or seated cycling at low resistance.

We understand. We’ve been there.

Finding convenient and reliable help for injuries online can be a tedious and demoralising process. This is why we started Exakt Health.
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Kim Van Deventer
Kim Van Deventer
Kim Van Deventer is a freelance healthcare writer and digital content strategist for healthcare businesses and medical content agencies. She has a BSc in Physiotherapy and worked as a physiotherapist for more than 14 years, specializing in sports injury rehabilitation, chronic pain management, and women's health. Kim combines her clinical experience and digital marketing skills to create relevant and helpful content that improves patients' lives.
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