Why do my shins hurt when I run?

Pain in the front of lower leg is referred to as a shin splint. The population this is most common in is runners. Increasing running mileage too quickly, suddenly changing the running surface, and beginners who run too far, too soon, are often plagued by these. The medical term is called medial tibial stress syndrome.

Why does this happen?

The tibia, or “shin”, is the bone that runs down the lower leg, from the knee to the ankle. Muscle attach on both sides of the shinbone. Shin splints are when the muscles pull away from the bone, causing a “tearing” sensation. The pain felt is caused by inflammation of tissue that connects the muscles to the bone and of the muscles themselves.

Common symptoms

The most common symptoms include pain on either side of the shin bone, usually midway between the knee and ankle.

How physical therapists can help

Physical therapists use various techniques, including ice massage, therapeutic exercises and manual therapy to alleviate pain. Ice massage is when ice is applied directly to the affected area for 2-5 minutes. This helps to quickly decrease pain, but the effects do not last very long. Combined, therapeutic exercises and manual therapy work to increase strength of the affected muscles and decrease pain with massage. Physical therapists will give a home exercise program to be completed daily at home and after therapy to decrease the chance of experiencing shin splints again. Stretching the muscles lower leg muscles and those that attach to the shin is very important in rehab for shin splints. This ensures that the muscles are loose enough to not add any unnecessary pressure on the shinbone. Tight muscles pull and tug on the bone, contributing to shin splints.

Getting back to running

When your shin splints have subsided, it is important to begin at low mileage and slow speeds. Increasing mileage slowly and staying consistent with your running surface are good tips to follow. A daily stretching routine should also be followed to keep lower leg muscles loose. At home, apply ice to your shins for 10 minutes after running!


  • Have two pairs of running shoes and alternate wearing them so that your shoes do not wear out quickly
  • Fill up a styrofoam cup halfway with water and freeze. Rip off the top of the cup and apply ice in a circular pattern over shins for 2-5 minutes
  • Stretch calves 2 times per day
  • Run on ground that has give, for example, a track. Hard surfaces, like cement, may increase shin splint symptoms
  • Run on even ground. Slopes may overstress one leg more than the other.

If you continue to have problems, you can schedule a FREE runner\’s consultation by clicking here.


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