Running is an excellent exercise that gets the heart pumping but it’s also a high-impact sport that isn’t without a few faults. The constant stress on your legs as they pound against the concrete can lead to lower leg pain when running. The pain can be from an injury to your bones, muscles, tendons, or a slew of other issues. Read on to learn more about lower leg pain and the ways you can stop it.
The most common running injuries stem from overuse. Runners like to put in hundreds if not thousands of miles during the year and that type of stress on your legs doesn’t go unnoticed. Too much running, running too fast, or increasing your distance too quickly can all result in an overuse injury. Below we’ll cover the specific causes that can be contributing to your lower leg pain.
Plantar fasciitis is a common foot injury, especially among runners. It happens when the fascia, a ligament on the bottom of your foot, becomes inflamed and irritated. The pain is usually felt in the heel or midfoot and is worse when you first get out of bed in the morning. Runners who increase their distances or running frequency too quickly are at greater risk of developing plantar fasciitis. Other risk factors for this injury include having flat feet, increased age, improper footwear, tight muscles, and excess weight.
A muscle strain in your calf is likely from overuse or an abrupt movement that caused a pulled muscle. The symptoms will vary based on how severe the strain is. In mild calf strains, you will have pain, swelling, redness, and bruising. People who have a severe strain will have similar symptoms but may be unable to walk or experience intense pain. Before you start running make sure to warm up and properly stretch your leg muscles.
A lower leg stress fracture is a hairline crack in the bone. It’s often caused by the repetitive stress of your foot striking the ground. You will feel pain that increases over time but does not get better with rest. There may be swelling or bruising over the fracture area. A stress fracture won’t go away on its own, you need to see your doctor. They will order an x-ray to evaluate your lower leg and determine if you need treatment with a cast. Recovery can take 6 to 8 weeks.
Shin splints, medically known as medial tibial stress syndrome, is pain on the anterior or medial areas of the shin bone. It typically happens when runners increase their distance too fast and run on hard surfaces like concrete. The symptoms are shin pain, swelling, and tenderness. Runners will need to rest for a bit and when they do return to running reduce their distance and frequency.
The Achilles tendon connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. Achilles tendonitis is when the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed and painful from injury. Runners might experience Achilles tendonitis from running too far or too fast. It’s important to seek treatment for your tendonitis as it can lead to a torn Achilles tendon which can lead to surgery. The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include pain in your lower leg, swelling, and tightness in the back of your leg near your heel.
If you are a runner and are experiencing lower leg pain it’s time to stop and evaluate what is really going on. Continuing to run with lower leg pain can lead to serious injury. Here are a few key questions you should ask yourself:
Before you begin treating your lower leg pain you’ll want to get a medical diagnosis. Your healthcare professional will look over your leg and ask you some questions. They might schedule an x-ray or other diagnostic imaging to get a better look at the injury. There are so many different types of injuries that could cause lower leg pain when running, it’s important that you get the right diagnosis as that will impact your treatment plan. Treating your leg incorrectly can lead to further damage.
Once you have a firm diagnosis and treatment plan then you can work on improving your lower leg pain. Here are our best tips to stay pain-free while running.
Warming up before running will prime your muscles for the impact of your workout.
Compression socks put a small amount of pressure on your lower legs to improve blood return and reduce swelling.
Proper footwear can make all the difference in your lower leg pain. Wear shoes that are specifically designed for runners and get fitted at a specialty running store if possible.
Shoe inserts will support your foot arch which is helpful in people with plantar fasciitis. You can buy inserts at the store or have them specially made by a podiatrist.
Don’t forget to cool down after your runs and stretch your calves.
Self-massage with a massage roller ball will work out tight muscle knots and release tension. These are especially helpful after a long run.
An ice pack over your sore muscles will not only feel great but reduce swelling and pain. Ice for 20 minutes after your run or whenever you feel soreness coming on.
Strengthening exercises will prevent re-injury, support your joints, and help you recover faster. Make sure you get cleared by your doctor or physical therapist before you begin strengthening exercises.
Running on hard surfaces can cause more stress and strain on your lower legs. Try running on softer surfaces like a running track or walking path.
Cross-training with other workouts like swimming or biking is meant to reduce the amount of time you spend running to give your legs a chance to recover. These other exercises will use different movements which help with the repetitive stress running causes.
Medications like ibuprofen will lessen pain and swelling. The medication won’t cure your lower leg pain but make it easier for you to return to running pain free.
Running is a high-impact sport that can cause significant wear and tear on your lower legs. If you start having lower leg pain it’s important to find out the root cause to determine the best treatment plan. Once you know what you’re working with then you can use our tips to prevent it from happening again. As always, don’t forget to talk to your doctor before you begin treatment.
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