My shins (specifically the Tibialis Anterior muscle - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tibialis_anterior_2.png) often tighten up while I'm running.

This has happened my whole life when running longer (e.g. more than a mile or so) distances at slower speeds. I was a sprinter years ago in high school (with no problems), but even then if we'd go for longer jog, the outside of my legs below the knee (left leg in particular) would get very tight. Not extremely painful, but uncomfortable - and at its worst, movement of my ankle was impaired.

I started running again (distance only) about a year and half ago, and it kept happening. I did stretch, but that didn't help too much, and I read that I should write out the alphabet with my toes before running. I do that every time I run now, and it definitely helps, but my shin still tightens up, but it really varies (sometimes it's barely noticeable, sometimes much worse).

It's never been bad enough that I have to stop running, but it isn't pleasant and I'm slightly worried that I'm altering my form a little and that it could lead to an injury.

Is there anything else I can do?

  • Any other symptoms besides tightness? Any tingling, numbness, leg pain or falling asleep at times, especially with more running activities?
    – QikMood
    Apr 15, 2013 at 21:58
  • I had a similar issue when walking (I tend to walk very quickly), but have found that it's much improved now that I'm back at the gym and spending 10 minutes on the rowing machine as a warm-up. The first few sessions weren't comfortable, but after that I saw pretty rapid improvements. It might not work for you (everybody is different after all) but is probably worth trying. Apr 16, 2013 at 9:17
  • @Trungmanator - nothing like you mentioned, but sometimes my arches will feel a little sore while running (again, more on the left). Finally, I had some sort of injury last year, where the bone on the left side of my left foot (the 5th metatarsal I believe) started to hurt after a long run. The doctor couldn't find anything wrong however, and it hasn't returned since I began running again a few months ago. In general he said that if whatever I'm feeling doesn't affect my gait, and it's only "discomfort" and not "pain", then not to worry about it.
    – Jer
    Apr 16, 2013 at 14:19
  • @Jer Have you thought about getting a sports physical therapist looking at your running mechanics and possible shoe wear? I recommend a PT who has lots of experience about treating runners. Also, if not you might want your PT to perform the thorough evaluation to make sure your piriformis and your hamstring muscle on that side are not tight. This is to make sure your nerve and blood supply to the anterior compartment is sufficient. It might be as simple as stretching the correct muscles.
    – QikMood
    Apr 16, 2013 at 14:47
  • @Jer You may want to read this article ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835588/pdf/…
    – QikMood
    Apr 16, 2013 at 19:23

9 Answers 9


Good morning. I work as an athletic therapist for the US Army currently and was with the USMC for 4 years prior to that in the same capacity. Anterior tibialis pain/tightening is usually caused by tight calves. As your foot dorsiflexes the calf muscles have to allow that motion to occur. If your calf muscles are tight the anterior tibialis and other dorsiflexors have to work much harder to lift your foot and may feel tight, painful, or inflammed during and sometimes following running. Work on stretching your calfs. There are 2 muscles that must be stretched: gastrocnemius and soleus. This is accomplished by stretching with the knee exteneded and the knee flexed. Hold each stretch for a minimum of 90 seconds and as long as 5 minutes per stretch at least 3 times a day. This helped every Marine and Soldier I have worked with with this issue and there were many. Good luck to you.


They are called shin splits. Recently being called medial tibial stress syndrome. This is indicative of your calves being significantly stronger than your tibialis anterior. Other causes are listed in the aforementioned article. I played soccer competitively and this was my main weakpoint after a 90 minute game; Painful shins after cooldown.

The fix recommended by my trainer was to target the shins with resistance training, such as weighing down the foot and just raising it using only the shin muscle. The targeted training improved the symptoms as did gaining conditioning over the course of each season.

  • Unless there are two VERY different kinds of shin splints, then it's definitely not that. I had horrible shin splits when I ran in high school, and those felt like the bone on the inside of my shin was badly bruised (and from what I can tell, that's the tibia). This is on the outside of the tibia, and is distinctly muscular. Thanks for your answer anyway though!
    – Jer
    Apr 16, 2013 at 14:16
  • @ Akin Okegbile It's nice of you to help out, but I think you are not reading his description thoroughly. He complains of the anterior lateral border of his shin, not the posterior medial.
    – QikMood
    Apr 16, 2013 at 14:39
  • i am talking about the tibialis anterior.. and shin splints are definitely a muscular pain nothing to do with the tibia. @Jer your tibia hurting is not shin splits. That is your tibia hurting. Read the article trungmanator I agree he is talking about the anterior lateral side of his shin. As I said; I personally have had similar issues and only gave the instructions I were given and did alleviate the symptoms. Apr 16, 2013 at 18:26
  • @AkinOkegbile You said, "and shin splints are definitely a muscular pain nothing to do with the tibia...your tibia hurting is not shin splits." Actually the tibia is 90% of your shin, so it is the shin splints. That is the reason why they changed the name from shin splints to MTSS (medial tibia stress syndrome), which is actually a stress reaction of the medial border of the tibia. What article are you talking about for me to read? That's not an article, is is just a random answer from the internet without any scientific evidence.
    – QikMood
    Apr 16, 2013 at 19:16
  • @AkinOkegbile this is a what a typical scientific journal article looks like ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848339/pdf/…
    – QikMood
    Apr 16, 2013 at 19:19

I run often, 5 miles at a time. I experience this, especially on my right shin. It tightens up after about 1/2 mile. It's not painful, but it's discomforting. Sometimes I can tough it out and run through it, but most of the other times I cannot.

I believe it has a lot to do with water retention. I weigh myself before I work out, and after I'm done, to see the difference. When I'm 2+ lbs. heavier than usual, it can happen. If you gain too much water weight, say 4+ lbs., you may experience this. I notice too, that when I drink coffee in the morning and don't urinate often, especially before I go running, it occurs. It's essentially water retention I believe.

Another tip I'd like to add. If you're going to do distance, say 4 miles total, do a mile first, allow your shin(s) to tighten up, and relax for about 10 minutes. Then finish the remaining 3 miles. You will notice a big difference; most of the tightening up, if not all, should have gone away. I do this whenever I experience these shin cramps.


Another possibility would be you have chronic compartment syndrome.

Basically the muscle sheathing doesn't expand sufficiently with the muscle. This can range from uncomfortable to very painful and feels pretty much exactly like the muscle is tightening up.

I had a more sever case, but I was never able to find any stretch or warmup exercise that helped much at all. There are only 2 'fixes' I am aware of -- time and surgery.

A specialist can diagnose this by measuring the resting pressure in the leg compartments.


I've experience this for a long time, it get much better right now but not solved completed.

First reason cause it is your foot may be supination/pronation, at least this is what I had.
You can go hospital and do a simple test with a result like this : http://2.im.guokr.com/gkimage/34/vn/tp/34vntp.png
The left one is normal/good arch, and make sure yours looks like that.
Ask doctor to explain, if this happen to you, you may get an insole to solve this.

Second possible reason is overlaping toes, even it's not overlap but the nail facing outside or inside like this : https://usercontent1.hubstatic.com/9908266_f260.jpg
as you can see the last toe is facing right, not top.
This may break your outside arch line like this : cms-assets.tutsplus.com/uploads/users/110/posts/21733/image/lateral-arch.jpg
(I don't have enough reputation, and stackexchange prevent me to post more than 2 links, please copy/paste in new tab by yourself)
and result bad foot preasure image like upon.
This problem does not only happen to little finger, it may break inside arch when you get overlaping on thumb.

Third reason may because the relationship between muscles.
For example, my Gastrocnemius muscle is tight but not hurt.
It cause my Tibialis Anterior muscle hurt, that's what doctor said.
I also noticed main area of pain sometimes came from Extensor digitorum longus, but it spread to Tibialis Anterior muscle.

There are some more possible reasons, but you may need provide more details like photo of your foot, so everybody can help on?

After all these, I help myself with special insole, toe socks, and warm up longer before exercise. If I wear these and at least warn up 30 mins, I get pain free even play 3 or more hours of soccer. Some plus are typing, and message after exercise (with tennis ball).
So yoga after exercise to extend your muscle or foam roller would really helpful.


i wonder if you have weak ankles. there are some excerises that should help with that. http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=115978391&page=1

Also, have you used a foam roller? I swear by this one http://www.amazon.com/Thera-Roll-Textured-Therapy-Foam-Roller/dp/B0083UNS26 it masages out the tension

  • 3
    Please explain the exercises, in those sites you have mentioned, here by editing your answer. The answer may go to the drain if the link breaks. Appreciate your efforts
    – Freakyuser
    Apr 16, 2013 at 4:42

One ex-sprinter I talked to mentioned similar pain from running long distance. The doctor told them it's common for sprinters to have problems adjusting to the different running form needed for long distance, because sprinters paw or run on their toes a lot.


This recently happened to me for the first time when I ran in flip flops. I was flexing my toes so the strap in the middle could stay on and lo and behold, Pain! I realised that if my toes are slightly curved downwards during my run (due to loose shoes or something else), it really works on my muscle. So I'd try and pay attention to how I'm running, cuz a little bit of strain on your toes and your working your muscle way more than it needs to.


Progress to zero drop shoes, and slowly progress to a forefoot strike. Had months of problems with this and ended up being compartment syndrome. It will shift the focus from your shins to your calves. Progress slowly and strengthen your calves every other day, otherwise you risk other injuries. I found running forefoot in zero drop shoes (or barefoot) is the only thing that completely prevents the pain, anything else I get pain after 3km.

To make your feet 'ready' for the transition, walk barefoot as much and as often as you can, everyday.

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