If you’ve ever experienced shin splints, you understand that they can be excruciating. And if you haven’t encountered this common exercise-induced pain, you’ll want to touch wood quickly. Shin splints can cause severe agony that extends from your ankle up your shin bone— and they don’t disappear easily.
“I know this appears so silly, but I participated in cross country in high school, and my coach had us perform these ‘duck walks’ to prevent shin splints, and they actually work so well,” TikTok user @retiredcowgirlwowgirl wrote. “I just look completely foolish, but anything to prevent injuries.”
Whether it’s engaging in exercises for shin splints or specialized shin splint stretches, there’s a plethora of things you can do to try to prevent shin splints before they ruin your run. In fact, one viral TikTok claims to possess the secret to dodging shin splints — as long as you can handle the curious gazes and peculiar looks you might receive when performing this preventive action in public, that is.
In this now-viral video with over 3.1 million views, the runner alternates between duck walks and pigeon walks. First, she walks on her heels with her toes directed outward towards what would be 11 and 1 on a clock for her left foot and right foot, respectively. Then, she reverses the positioning, walking on her toes with her left heel directed back towards 7 o’clock and right heel directed back towards 5 o’clock.
Many individuals in the comments corroborated the TikToker’s assertions. “You’re absolutely correct,” one wrote. “My college coach had us do it as well, and it’s life-altering. Prevents many injuries and pains.” Someone else chimed in with, “Ran cross-country for four years and even after high school and did this every time. My legs are in good shape. Did 40 miles a week 😳.”
Others sounded enthusiastic about trying out this hack. “Tell me how I had to visit the trainer EVERY DAY before and after practice to ice my shins and no one gave me this information,” another person said.
But can duck walk exercises genuinely ward off shin splints? Here’s what you need to know.
What are shin splints?
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, “shin splints” pertain to pain along the inner edge of the shinbone (aka the tibia), according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Shin splints typically arise from physical activity and are commonly associated with running.
Shin splints tend to develop when the muscle and bone tissue in the leg are overused by repetitive activity or abrupt changes in physical activity, such as increasing the number of workout days or the duration of exercise. (For what it’s worth: The AAOS also states that you can develop shin splints if you have flat feet, “abnormally rigid” arches, or exercise with improper or worn-out footwear — so make sure you’re wearing the best running shoes for shin splints.)
Can duck walking exercises prevent shin splints?
While you might be enticed to incorporate five minutes of duck walks into your pre-run warm-up, experts have differing opinions on whether duck walks are safe — let alone effective. Theoretically, utilizing duck walking to activate and fortify the tibialis anterior and tibialis posterior (also known as two of the muscles along your calf that aid in flexion) could be effective, according to Clint Soppe, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and orthopedic consultant for the LA Galaxy.
However, Chris Kolba, a physical therapist in sports medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, states that he would advise against duck walks due to the risk of performing them incorrectly, especially since most individuals lack the mobility or knowledge of proper form to execute a professional duck walk. In fact, improper execution of duck walks can elevate the risk of injury — essentially the complete opposite of what you intend to achieve with these exercises. “I am also concerned about the knee joint and the meniscus being at risk in the extreme position of the duck walk, considering the poor form and compensations typically observed while individuals attempt this movement,” adds Kolba.
What are alternative methods to prevent shin splints?
One of the best steps you can take to prevent shin splints is to gradually increase your running rather than making significant mileage leaps, according to Mark Slabaugh, M.D., a sports medicine physician and orthopedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Center. (Think: progressively increasing your mileage by a few miles per week rather than suddenly adding on an additional 10 miles.)
If you frequently struggle with shin splints, it is advisable to consult a physical therapist, suggests Jason Womack, M.D., chief of the division of sports medicine at the Rutgers University Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “Dedicated physical therapy is an effective approach to strengthening the anterior tibialis in addition to the other muscles that aid in foot and ankle movement,” he states. This enhanced strength is crucial in preventing shin splints because stronger muscles boost your capacity for training (meaning your ability to run longer distances without pain). Dr. Womack notes that resistance bands can be especially effective in isolating and fortifying individual ankle muscles.
Give this popular strengthening exercise a try: Sit on the ground with your legs extended. Place a towel or resistance band around the sole of your left foot, holding each end of the towel or band with one hand. Pull your left toes towards your shin, then point them towards the wall in front of you, completing one repetition. Aim for 3 to 5 sets of 10 repetitions on each foot for optimal injury prevention.
Lastly, reduce the frequency and intensity of your workouts until your shin splints have healed, advises Dr. Soppe (although he acknowledges that “this is usually the last thing people want to hear”). He also suggests performing a targeted ice massage on your shins after exercising. Using a plastic bag filled with ice or an ice roller, apply pressure and move the ice up and down the inner and outer sides of your shins for five to ten minutes.
If you have attempted all of these methods and are still experiencing difficulties, it is time to consult a doctor, Dr.
Soppe. “You want to eliminate the possibility of a stress fracture at that juncture,” he states.
So, to sum it up: you may feel inclined to attempt the duck walk exercises, but exercise caution (and under the supervision of a running coach or physical therapist). There are alternative methods to avoid shin splints aside from engaging in this novel TikTok trend.