How To Prevent and Treat Shin Pain When Walking

Stretching. Westend61/Getty Images

Shin splints are a pain in the lower leg caused by overuse of the muscles. It is also called medial tibial stress syndrome. Shin splints are common when people starting a walking or running fitness program. Experienced walkers and runners may feel shin splint pain when they change something about their walking, such as walking faster, changing their stride or changing to a new type of shoe.

Symptoms of Shin Splints

The pain is sharp when walking and ceases when you stop moving.

The pain may be anterior shin splints in the front of the leg or posterior shin splints in the calf muscles at the back of the leg.

Causes of Shin Splints

Shin splints are due to an imbalance between the muscles that lift the foot and those that pull it down. Overstriding can cause of shin splints, as can wearing walking shoes with a relatively high wedge heel. The shin splint pain will eventually go away as you develop your shin muscles and adjust to your new stride.

How to Prevent and Treat Shin Splints

Shin splints generally go away as the walker builds strength in the calf muscles. Stretching and strengthening exercises may help. Rarely, the pain may be due to compartment syndrome or stress fracture.

  1. Do not overstride: Overstriding is one of the major causes of shin splints. Keep your stride longer in back and shorter in front. Go faster by pushing off more with the back leg.
  2. Wear walking shoes with flexible soles and low heels: You should be able to twist and bend your shoes, otherwise, your feet and shins are fighting them with each step. Some "walking" shoes are not well designed for walking. If they don't twist and bend, select another style. Your walking shoes should be relatively flat, without a built-up heel.
  1. Strengthen your calf muscles with exercises: Toe Raises and Shin Stretches can help build the shin muscles and improve their flexibility so you can overcome shin splints.
  2. Replace old, dead shoes: Shoe cushioning is exhausted every 500 miles, often long before the soles or uppers show wear. But these old, dead shoes can contribute to shin splints and plantar fasciitis, as well as foot and leg fatigue.
  1. Walk on softer surfaces: Seek out barkdust, dirt, grass, or cinder walking paths rather than concrete.
  2. Alternate walking days: Walk only every other day until the pain disappears.
  3. Ice: Ice your shins before you walk, and again ice your shins for 20 minutes after you walk.
  4. Keep legs warm during your walk: Keep your legs warm with long socks during the walk.
  5. Warm-up before going fast: Warm up at an easy pace for ten minutes before you begin a faster paced walking workout.
  6. Stretch after warming up: Stop and do your stretch routine, especially the legs, after your warm-up.
  7. Speed up only after warming up: If you feel the calf pain, slow down.
  8. Slow or stop if you feel shin splint pain: If the pain does not go away quickly at a lower speed, end your walk.
  9. Pain in the back of the leg: For pain in the back of the leg, make sure you are not leaning forward when walking.
  10. Pain in the front of the leg: For pain in the front of the leg, a slightly higher shoe heel may work better.
  11. Avoid walking and running competition until the pain is gone.
    1. Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory medications can help.
    2. Anterior Compartment Syndrome is a more rare cause of pain on the outer side of the lower leg.
    3. Stress Fracture can occur in those starting an exercise program, with sharp pain a below the knee.


    Moen MH, Tol JL, Weir A, Steunebrink M, De Winter TC. "Medial tibial stress syndrome: a critical review." Sports Med. 2009;39(7):523-46. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200939070-00002.

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