When Shin Muscles Turn Rock Hard

When it happened to me, I couldn’t find any information on Google to address it, so maybe this can help someone.

I had a problem with my shins when running.  My shin muscles, the tibialis anterior, tightened up and became rock hard (and painful) every time I started a run.

The pain and tightness, unsurprisingly, made leg extension difficult and affected my stride.   Oddly, after 5 miles of running with throbbing shin muscles and occasionally walking, the muscle would finally relax, permitting normal running.

Surveying the literature for a solution didn’t help.  It turns out a lot of things can go wrong with shins and they are all lumped under the one category of ‘shin splints’.  Imagine a world where everyone was named Bob.  That’s kind of how it is with shin problems.  The most promising explanation was that the muscle was weak.  Unfortunately, the cure did not work.  Performing strengthening exercises only made the muscle seize up tighter and throb harder during runs.

Finally, an ‘aha’ moment.  While tracing the alphabet with my toes (one of those strengthening exercises), I realized that the shin muscle were under tension and pulled back whenever I fully contracted my calf muscle.  During the last third of the movement, both muscles pulled at the same time.  No wonder my shin muscles tightened up when I ran!  The shin muscle resisted the calf muscle with every step and worked itself to exhaustion through eccentric contraction.  No amount of strengthening was going to help.  In fact, more strength meant more opposition to forward movement and more wasted energy.  This was a problem with flexibility, not strength.

In the end, the solution to my problem was to make the shin muscle flexible enough that it would not engage while the calf muscle was contracting.  Now, before and after every run, I sit on my heels for 20 seconds with knees pointed forward and toes pointed backwards.  That’s all.  That’s all it took to eliminate miles of running with throbbing shin muscles.


36 thoughts on “When Shin Muscles Turn Rock Hard

  1. This happens to me all the time! Basically it’s only when I’m waking up in the middle of the night and I stretch or something. It hurts very bad and feels like your muscles are as hard as a bone. Ugh, I hate it!

  2. I am facing this same dilemma and would like to try you solution. However, I am having a hard time visualizing how to sit on my heels with my knees pointed forward and my toes pointed backwards. Could you possibly provide a picture, or explain it another way.

    I would greatly appreciate it!

  3. THANK YOU! I’ve been trying to figure this out for weeks and like you I had very little luck finding an answer on line….until I found your post. I’ll be trying a few stretches I learned at yoge, including your “sitting on my heels” move.

  4. Thanks very much fella ive been picking my brain for ages …. explains as i had 2 years out of exercise !
    any more streches that wud help ?

  5. I am so glad that someone found this solution to this dilemna. I have it bad on both side of my shins. This comes up after a few minutes on the treadmill or running outside. I thought it was my shoes, lack of strength (after knee surgery), or shin splints.

  6. You sir, are a genius. I have suffered with this for six months now and after trying your tip last night I have no discomfort this morning unlike normal!

  7. I’ve had this problem for a few years now. It started when I was using treadmills to run instead of road running, but now it happens whatever I’m running on! I went out for a run yesterday for the first time in ages with a friend, and I had to stop after about a mile, because my shin muscles had completely locked up. Not nice at all. I’m really hoping this method works as I love running and need to lose weight! :op

  8. Thank you sooo much for this tip,I was under the impression that there’s something wrong with ME and it’s not common.
    Will try this pose and hopefully it will work.

  9. OMG!!!! I tried this and right away had relief. I ran my first half marathon last weekend and thought I was going to have to call for the SAG Wagon after only a mile. I pushed thru the pain until mile three when things got better. I FINISHED!! Thank you so much. I have been dealing with this for over three years.

  10. I seem to be having some success with this method, it’s taking away 80-90% of the soreness and stiffness in my shins when I run. Thank you very much.

  11. I suffer from this same problem…have for years…before a bout with plantar fasciitis earlier this year and now again after it. My story reads so much like yours that it sounds like I wrote it…from the tightness, the loss of ankle mobility, the eventual (temporary) resolution deep into a run (which may or may not have led to the PF issue/continuing problem).

    I had realized that mid-run, dragging my toes behind me to stretch the shin was somewhat effective. I never thought to stretch pre-run (and I will also assume the stretch position mid-run if necessary). Am looking forward to my next run later this week to test this.

  12. I’ve been trying to figure this out as well. I have not had this happen until recently and when it starts to happen to me I try to run and walk through it but it completely halts my run. Thank you. I will try this today.

  13. THANK YOU SO MUCH. You have no idea how long I have suffered from this exact problem and searched fruitlessly for an answer to it. THANK YOU!

  14. I sit most of the day, so I thought my shins are just weak. I did what you suggested and my problem went away. Just wanted to say THANKS!

  15. This problem is so bad for me that my shin pain stops me running very soon after I start. In fact, because hadn’t gone running properly in about 4 years.

    I read this after trying to go on a run last night (and it didn’t end well). As a result I stretched out last night and did the same today before a second attempt at running around the local park.

    Though my shins still felt a tiny bit uncomfortable (possibly still from last night), the problem was so much better and for once my shins didn’t stop me running – after a mile or so my lack of fitness started to show.

    Thanks so much – this is a game changer for me!!

  16. Thank you for your post! I’ve been trying to figure this out. I am definitely going to try it

  17. Great. I think article is so very specific to this problem. I was searching for an answer and it is all rolled into shin splint. Its like searching in the dark to find a solution of this issue. I was hoping somebody would have written about it in the next. I do the pose as part of my infrequent yoga schedules. I think that’s why I use to have the stiffness problem sometime. Last three runs had been so much of a problem, i wanted to look for solution on the net and I glad I found this. Looks like this is real and I will try it before my next run. I will come back here to confirm if things got better for me. It will help other runners to know about this solution.

    Interesting to see a thousands of years old yoga has answers for modern problem.

    Thanks to this post. If this works- you made me to continue to run. I was about to give up.

  18. Finally!!! Thank you for taking the time to post this. I realize this post is nearly 9 years old but still very helpful (I didn’t find it until 2017).

    I was really starting to get into running but this issue crept up on me out of nowhere. I was determined that it wasn’t “shin splints” because I had experienced it in the past.

    Both myself and the doctor were of the opinion that it was “compartment syndrome” and the next step for me was to get needles to measure the pressure in my legs, and likely a fasciotomy surgery would follow.

    While this is likely a correct diagnosis, doctors are looking at the current issue and tend not to look back at WHY this is occurring. The symptom is pressure building up to the point the fascia is keeping the muscle from expanding (basically, the muscle is suffocating itself). But, the reason the muscle is swelling is exactly what was mentioned in this post. The shin muscle is constantly fighting the calf muscle and over-working itself.

    Before these stretches I couldn’t go more than 1/4 mile without having to stop because of the pain (and my legs lost some muscle control). After one time of doing these stretches I was back out and ran 5+ miles. I still had a little discomfort but it was likely leftover muscle soreness from the previous attempts.

    I hope people dealing with these issues (whether diagnosed as compartment syndrome or not) consider this method. It may save you from surgery and loads of frustration.

  19. Thank you so much for this post.
    You have saved me from this agony with such a simple exercise. I’ve always found it unconfortable kneeling on the tops of my feet, but this small amount of pain is worth the relief of the solid shin pain!!
    Thanks again!!!

  20. How do you “sit on your heels ” knees forward and toes backward? Can’t picture this exercise. Diagram would help.

  21. So right about everything lumped in to shin splints and all about weak/not warmed up muscles.
    Used to only get the problem walking fast up steep hills – lately, it can come on just walking fast, usually over a mile when trying to catch a bus.
    Will try those stretches, as unbelievably, issue came on walking on a treadmill yesterday and that was after half an hour on a bike.

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