Cycling and Shin Pain

Shin pain that occurs while cycling can vary from mild to severe. It can be due to a variety of errors and conditions, some that require the attention of a doctor.

Shin pain that occurs while cycling can vary from mild to severe. (Image: GibsonPictures/E+/GettyImages)

Because shin pain can be debilitating and prevent you from continuing your workout, it is important to understand why it can occur and how you can remedy it.

Shin Splints and Cycling

Shin pain while cycling can develop if you overuse the muscles, tendons or bones in the shin area with excessive riding or by not taking proper breaks in between workouts. You can also develop pain in the shins if you frequently ride in high gears, have an improper saddle position or height, or the crank of your bike is too long.

In addition, some conditions such as a stress fracture or anterior compartment syndrome — which is the swelling of the muscle within its protective sheath — can trigger shin pain while cycling.

If shin pain continues to occur on a frequent basis while cycling, you might have a condition called chronic exertional compartment syndrome. This is an exercise-induced condition that causes pain and swelling in the affected area. According to Mayo Clinic, you might also experience tightness, numbness, tingling, weakness or in severe cases, foot drop — an inability to pick your toes up off the ground. In severe cases, this condition might require surgery.

Take a Break

Refrain from bicycling for a couple of days to give your injury time to heal. Hold an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables against your shin for about 20 minutes at a time to help constrict blood vessels and reduce pain and swelling. Massage your shin in a circular motion for about five minutes. If desired, massage the ice into the muscle.

Take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen to help ease pain. Contact a doctor if you suspect a serious injury such as a fracture, which may require surgical treatment.

Prevent pain and injury with shin splint exercises, such as stretching out your shins before your cycling workout. Try standing on the edge of a stair and lifting yourself up on your toes 20 times. This will help warm up your shins and make them more resilient.

Shin Pain and Bike Fit

Shin pain and cycling cleats can be related. According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, choosing the correct cycling shoes is the most important variable to preventing shin splints with cycling, second only to picking the right bike.

Wear cycling shoes that have adequate support and cushioning. You can also purchase inserts or ask your doctor for orthotics to help keep your feet in proper position while cycling.

See Your Doctor

Shin pain is not typically a sign of a serious injury. However, you should seek medical attention if pain is severe, lasts longer than a few weeks, does not dissipate even after rest, does not improve with home remedies, is accompanied by heat or swelling or occurs after an accident or fall. These could be symptoms of a more dangerous medical condition, like a fracture or anterior compartment syndrome or infection.

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