Do you suffer from chronic lower leg injuries or pain? Before you can fix the problem, it helps to have a clear understanding of the anatomy and symptoms of your lower legs.
HOW YOUR LOWER LEGS WORK
Your calves lift the heel and shins support the arch, raise the toes and absorb impact. Running works the rear of the leg more so than the front and the result is muscle imbalance. As a result runners have over worked, tight calf muscles and weak shin muscles. This can lead to four specific lower-leg injuries: Calf pulls, shin splints, stress fractures and compartment syndrome.
A CALF PULL is when one of the muscles of the calf is overstretched beyond its limit and pulls away from the Achilles tendon. Reasons can be not warming up enough, stretching excessively, increase in mileage and hill work. Micro tears can heal in 2 weeks where as complete ruptures can take up to 4 months.
SHIN SPLINTS refer to injuries in the lower leg. This can include Anterior shin splints involving the Tibialis Anterior muscle, or Posterior Shin splints involving the Tibialis Posterior muscle. It is the inflammation of the fascia that covers and connects the muscles to the leg bone resulting in the fascia starting to separate from the Tibia bone. Typically, the pain strikes when you start to run and stops once you have warmed up. The best remedies are rest, icing, stretching, strengthening and anti-inflammatories.
If the pain does not ease up then you may have a STRESS FRACTURE. This is diagnosed by a bone scan or MRI but a touch test can also confirm the fracture.
“You can usually find one spot on the tibia that makes you jump off the table,” says Pierre Rouzier, M.D., team physician for the University of Massachusetts and author of Sports Medicine Patient Adviser.
Stress fractures require very strict rehabilitation, as it is a fracture in the bone. Bone needs 6-8 weeks of rest and you need to discuss with your doctor the course of anti-inflammatories. Research has shown that anti-inflammatories can interfere with bone mineralization and prolong your recovery.
One other condition that can affect the shin is COMPARTMENT SYNDROME. Swelling can develop in the lower leg from too much running. This swelling can then choke off blood vessels to the nerves of the foot. The result is your foot feels numb and clumsy. The symptoms disappear once you stop exercising and reappear once you resume exercising.
“Anyone who runs on hard surfaces, trains in worn-out shoes, rapidly jacks up mileage, or neglects stretching and strengthening the lower leg is at risk,” says sports podiatrist Stephen M. Pribut, who treats runners in Washington, D.C.
In a recent survey of 14,000 injured runners, Pribut found that calf pulls were the second most common complaint, with shin splints coming in fourth. These injuries outranked Achilles tendinitis, heel pain, even lower-back pain.
Understanding your injury can allow you to undergo proper treatment, leading to quicker recovery and return to activity.