Tightness in your shins can make walking and running difficult or painful. Though tight shin muscles are not considered "shin splints," they can eventually lead to this condition.
Beginner runners and those with weak leg muscles are at greater risk for muscle fatigue and subsequent cramping. Running on hard surfaces or in improper footwear can also lead to muscle tightness.
Talk to your doctor about your pain. Rest, ice and stretching can help alleviate your symptoms.
Shin Muscle Anatomy
The anterior or front part of your lower leg is composed of the tibialis anterior, extensor hallucis longus, extensor digitorum longus and peroneous tertius muscles. The tibialis anterior runs along the tibia or shin bone and is most easily seen when you flex your foot. Tibialis anterior tightness can occur with running.
This group of muscles works to flex your foot, pulling your toes toward your shin, and are actively involved in running and walking movements. Weakness or overuse of these muscles can lead to fatigue, cramping and tightness. In addition, chronic tightness may eventually lead to shin splints.
Shin Splints Defined
Shin splints are a general term that refers to pain in your shins while walking or running; however, true shin splints cause pain at the front inside of your shin bone. Inflammation of the sheath surrounding the tibia bone usually leads to this condition.
Shin splints can also occur from excessive force on the shin bone or overuse of the muscles and tissues surrounding the bone. Over time, shin splints can progress into stress fractures — tiny cracks in your tibia. If your pain gradually worsens and becomes severe, see a doctor to rule out stress fractures.
Read more: How to Tell if You Have Shin Splints
Treatment for Shin Pain
If your doctor rules out stress fractures, pain and tightness in your shin muscles is fairly manageable with rest, stretching and ice. Take a few days off from running or cross train by swimming or biking, which have minimal impact on your joints.
Reduce your mileage and consider running on grass or a track — instead of the road or sidewalk — to lessen the impact on your legs. Talk to your doctor or podiatrist about your shoes — if they do not fit properly or show excessive wear, you'll increase your risk of shin pain.
Stretching Your Lower Legs
Stretching the muscles in your shins can help reduce tightness and pain and potentially prevent further injury.
Stretch your shin muscles while standing by crossing your right leg over your left and placing the top of the toes of your right foot on the floor. Bend your left leg so that it is pushing down on the right, stretching your shin muscles. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat three times on both legs.
Tightness in your calves can also affect the way you run, which can contribute to sore shins. Stretch your calves as part of your warmup routine. Stand facing a wall or other support surface and place your hands at shoulder-height. Stagger your feet and bend the front knee. Press your back heel into the ground and straighten your knee. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat several times on each leg.
Read more: 6 Simple Exercises to Prevent Shin Splints