How to Relieve Shin Splint Pain with Foam Rolling
Written by Nic Bartolotta
Thousands of runners, jumpers, and athletes are diagnosed with shin splints every year, forcing them to sit out of competitions while they treat the pain. But what if there was a way to quickly get you back on your feet without having to take time off?
Foam rolling is an effective way to treat shin splints by increasing blood circulation, relieving pain, loosening tight & sore muscles, and kickstarting the healing process. We’re briefly going to explore the symptoms & causes of your pain, then dive into how foam rolling for shin splints can be an effective treatment option to manage and even eliminate your pain.
What are shin splints?
Shin splints are a common pain that occurs along the tibia of the lower leg. Also known as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints refer to muscles, tendons, and bone tissue inflamed by excessive running, jumping, and other causes. More specifically, it’s caused by the anterior tibialis and extensor digitorum longus muscles pulling away from the tibia as a result of excessive force on the shin.
Shin splints can be caused by a variety of activities and present with many different symptoms. They are common in athletes who run, jump, and play on hard surfaces like:
- Distance runners
- Endurance runners
- Jumpers (long jump, high jump, triple jump, and pole vault)
- Basketball players
- Soccer players
- Tennis players
- Volleyball players
But those aren’t the only people who get shin splints. They can also manifest in those with pre-existing foot & ankle conditions like flat feet. Teenage athletes are also susceptible to developing shin splints because of their rapidly growing bones and muscles, a term often dubbed "growing pains."
What do shin splints feel like?
Shin splints present with tenderness, soreness, and/or severe pain along the tibia. Swelling and bruising are also possible, though less likely than the other symptoms. In mild to moderate cases, the pain usually subsides soon after you stop exercising, which makes them a manageable condition.
How to relieve shin splint pain with the Rolflex foam roller
This is the simple foam rolling technique I use to treat & prevent shin splints in NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB athletes. You'll just need 5 minutes and your deep tissue foam roller.
1. Begin by foam rolling your calf
Open the Rolflex to the fourth or fifth spot, depending on how big your leg is. Then slide the contoured, colored roller just below your calf muscle on the back of your leg. The black, padded roller should rest comfortably on the lower part of the front of your shin.
Apply direct pressure to the area by clamping the handles and begin to slowly roll up & down the calf muscle. This will start to circulate blood lymphatic fluid in your legs, helping your body to eliminate waste like injured muscle and bone tissue, also known as adhesions.
2. Identify trigger points on your calf
As the roller moves over your calf, you’ll notice that some areas are more sensitive than others. These are called trigger points, and the Rolflex specializes in releasing the pressure from these tight, sensitive areas. Once you locate a trigger point, hold the massage roller in place and flex your foot up and down in a controlled motion.
After 5-10 foot pumps, slide the roller 2-3 inches further down, closer to your foot. Repeat this process again with 5-10 foot pumps and continue until you reach the Achilles tendon. Applying too much pressure with the contoured roller could damage the tendon, so we avoid this area altogether.
Slide the roller back up to the top of your calf, near the knee, and repeat this process with the other trigger points along the back of your calf muscle. If the contoured roller isn't working for you, switch to the medium or high density roller.
3. Rotate the roller to the sides of your lower leg
Before moving onto the shin directly, rotate the Rolflex so that the foam roller is positioned on the outside of your shin. Move the roller up & down the outside of your leg to foam roll the peroneal muscles, which play a vital role running, jumping, and foot flexion.
Repeat this process on the inside of the calf as well, applying even pressure as you slowly roll over the area to break up scar tissue and promote healing.
4. Foam roll the front of your shin
Rotate the Rolflex so that the contoured roller is on the front of your shin and the padded, black roller rests on the calf muscle. Apply pressure and slide the roller up and down the front of your shin on the soft tissue, not on the shin bone itself. The pressure should cause a bit of discomfort as tension is released but you shouldn’t apply so much that you’re causing yourself pain. As well, make sure to avoid rolling directly over the tibia – this will cause a great deal of pain and will not help treat your shin splints.
5. Identify trigger points on your shin
Just as you did when rolling the calf, make a mental note of especially sensitive areas or trigger points. After 30 seconds of foam rolling your shin, slide the contoured roller over the trigger point and flex your foot up & down 5-10 times. After the foot flexions, slide the Rolflex down 2-3 inches, closer to your foot, and repeat the toe flexion movements. Stop once you reach an inch or two above your ankle, then repeat with the other trigger points.
This foam rolling technique stimulates blood, oxygen, and nutrient circulation which will provide immediate relief to your shin splint pain. But just because it feels good, that doesn’t mean you should continue to massage the sore area. Repeat this technique at least 2-3x per day.
You should notice a significant improvement in your pain levels and muscle tightness after just 6-7 days, enabling you to return to your sport. Even after your pain subsides, continue foam rolling before and after your running workouts to prevent re-aggravating the damaged muscles & tendons.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it good to roll out shin splints?
Yes, foam rolling your shin splints helps reduce inflammation and promote recovery by breaking down scar tissue and increasing blood circulation.
Where do you roll out for shin splints?
To fully relieve & treat the pain caused by shin splints, you should foam roll the entire lower leg. This includes the posterior (calf), lateral (peroneal), and anterior (shin) muscles.
Can you workout with shin splints?
Yes, you can workout with shin splints after a few days off to rest reduce inflammation. Instead of returning to high-impact activities, you should continue to exercise by swimming & biking while you have shin splints.
What is the fastest way to relieve shin splints?
Shin splints won’t disappear overnight, but foam rolling is the most sustainable treatment option that provides immediate relief and prevents further injury.