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Lower Leg Pain While Running? Know The Causes And How To Treat Them

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Suppose you are running at your own pace according to the “sweet spot” and suddenly you feel a sharp sprain in your lower leg. Unfortunate, isn’t it? Running has its own charm undoubtedly, but what about those sudden pangs that make the pain too excruciating to carry on? Lower leg pain while running, is a common phenomenon and we all have experienced it at some point in time.

While some pains vanish almost immediately, some linger on for a few days making your life hell. Sometimes you ignore it altogether following the ‘no pain, no gain’ rule, but that does not subdue it. While being bedridden for every pain is not effective, letting it be as it is too does not work all the time. You need to know the reasons behind the different types of pains, diagnose them according to their symptoms and treat them accordingly. As doctors say, you cannot treat the pain unless you know its origin.

Anterior Shin Splints

The origin of calf pain while running lies primarily on the stiff calf muscles that try to pull up the muscles on your heel, which again tries to bring the front of your feet down. The result is strain on the weak front leg muscles that fail to endure the pull.

So before you fall victim to another lower leg calf pain while running, have a look at how many ways these pains can occur and how you can get over them easily as ever.

lower leg calf pain running
Lower leg calf pain running

Have you ever felt that the tinges of leg pains after running get resolved almost immediately as you stop but comes back as you continue thereafter?

These frequent visitors are due to shin splints caused in your inner tibia. You might feel the pain throbbing around at the tibia bone and after every running or training session, you can even see swelling in your lower leg due to microscopic tears around the tibia.

Causes

Overtraining and running on unfavourable terrains are the two main causes of pain on the outside of your lower leg while running.

Too much Running – too Enthusiastic

Going over-the-top while you are still learning the principles of running adds strain in your calves. Too much exertion of the muscles causes them to tear.

Running on Hard Terrain

Overpronation (feet tilted inside) and Oversuspination (feet tilted outside) while running on unfavourable surfaces can make your weak calves push their limits in order to gain stability and do so in vain.

Anterior Shin Splints
Anterior Shin Splints

Remedies:

  • Apply ice packs or wrap a frozen wet towel for 10-15 minutes keeping your leg elevated if you feel your leg hurting after running. Take ibuprofen or aspirin as per prescribed by the doctor. During bedtime, put a heating pad in low setting and wrap it around your leg.

  • Take a few days break from running and put effort into stretching and strengthening the calves, without pushing too much. Wall pushups, foot presses and furniture lifts are perfect to gain strength. You can also place a weight on your foot, elevate with toes pointed, keep for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times.

  • To reduce pain at the back of your lower leg while running, try running on smooth surfaces to avoid feet tilting in or out. Check on your running form, deter from slouching forward. Consult an orthotic to get help in rectifying foot balance.

  • Shoes are important in running. Check for proper cushioning and heel lifts so as to not strain the calves.

Check out the Complete Guide on Shin Splints Cure for a Pain-free Run

Shin Splits
Shin Splits

Posterior Shin Splints

Do the insides of your legs hurt when running? This symptom directs towards Posterior Shin Splints or the opposite of what we discussed earlier. Here the pain develops where the calves are attached to the big shin bone. Let’s see how it is caused.

Causes:

You might have developed flat feet, that went on unnoticed and untreated. Straining the supporting muscles of the arch of your lower leg will put enough pressure and develop a stress fracture.

Remedies:

Treatment is the same as that of Anterior Shin Splints. As an added remedy, keep your arches under rest by providing extra support. Arch Strapping and Arch supports are always helpful.

Posterior Shin Splints
Posterior Shin Splints

Stress Fracture

Basically stress fractures are severe forms of shin splints when they go unnoticed and untreated and as a result, microscopic tears develop causing extreme lower leg pain while running. The shin bones get into resorption and bone building simultaneously to strengthen the muscles, but as the stress gets worse bone building gets subdued by resorption and then microfractures occur. You might notice a mild swelling on the lower leg.

Causes:

Ignoring the continuous calf pain while running makes the stress develop in due course of time and leads ultimately to a fracture through the bone that is not detectable in single X-Rays during the first two weeks or so. As stress fractures are difficult to heal owing to the shape of the tibia, if you keep on training with microfractures it gets severe.

Due to menstrual cycles, women can have low density levels of Vitamin D which puts them at risk. Improper diet too can add to the risk factors.  

Remedies:

  • Stop impact training immediately. Carry crutches in case you are having problems while walking. Cross train in a sustained way.

  • Put on a stirrup brace to support the lower leg, try running slowly. In 6-8 weeks you will be all set to run normally as before.  

  • Don’t overtrain or increase cadence rapidly.

  • Intake a Vitamin D rich diet.

Check out the Complete Guide on Shin Stress Fracture

Achilles Tendinitis

The excruciating lower leg pain in running starting from where the heel is attached to the lower calf leads to Achilles Tendinitis, which is one of the most common issues that the runners experience. Achilles Tendinitis, as the name suggests, affects the Achilles Tendon and develops in the sheath through which the cord connecting the heel passes.

Causes:

The muscles swell and create friction; as a result, you feel a prickling pain that subdues your flexibility to move your heel and the strength to run. 

Sudden Change in Training

Increasing your cadence or speed workout abruptly will overstretch and over-contract your muscles at the same time and your tendons won’t be strong enough to resist tearing as you have not trained properly.

Changing Shoes

As you switch to racing shoes from trainer boots without practising regularly with the racing shoes, your muscles are not habituated with the lower heel of the new boots. If your legs hurt when running, consider whether you are having problem with your new shoes.

Ankle position
Ankle positioning

Calf Muscles and Tendons

Your calves might be too short to touch the heels or the heels might be a little too far from the calves. In either case, as you run vigorously, overstretching happens.

Overpronation and Oversuspination

Running with Overpronation causes soreness along the posterior tibialis tendon while Oversuspination causes stiffness and inflammation in the peroneal tendon.

Achilles Tendinitis
Achilles Tendinitis

Remedies:

  • Apply ice packs 3-4 times a day for 15-20 minutes. Train with trainer boots and racing boots simultaneously and also modify the boots according to your comfort level. Try the cross training exercises as mentioned for Shin Splints. Try stretching the tendons firmly after a little warm up session with jogging or walking.

  • As you gain flexibility, try a Heel Lift to avoid lower leg pain while running. Raise and drop your heels repeatedly and slowly at the back of each step. Gradually quicken your lifts and as you gain both speed and strength, switch to raising a single leg. Wear Heel Lifts to alleviate the pain for the time being and remove them after you have gained flexibility.

  • In severe cases, go for deep tissue massages and active-release therapies done by professional therapists.

Check out the Complete Guide on How to Beat Achilles Tendinitis

Seek medical help in extreme cases
Seek medical help in extreme cases

Compartment Syndrome

If you feel numbness in your lower leg while running or training, the reason may be that you are having Compartment syndrome. In this case, the fascia surrounding the compartments in your leg act like a tourniquet in restricting the regular circulation of blood as your muscles swell during training. If you are overtraining and experience leg pains after running, you need to reconsider as such constriction in blood flow will put excessive pressure on the nerves, making them numb and painful.

Surprisingly, you will notice that the pain subsides after you stopped exercising. Basically what happens is that the swelling resolves as your muscles relax and hence normal blood flow occurs.

calf stretching exercises
Calf stretching exercises

Remedies:

Cut short on your training when you feel numbness and lower leg pain while running.

Stop overtraining and go for a massage treatment to ease off the muscles. Consult a doctor before the case is severe as to opt for a surgery.

Check out the Complete Guide on Compartment Syndrome - An Acute Lower Leg Injury

Inflammation in Gastrocnemius and Soleus

Due to sudden injuries, you might feel a twitch in the inside of your legs and if ignored you will find your leg hurting after running. Primarily there will be some bruises or a little swelling and the area will feel tender and sensitive to touch.

Remedies:

Use ice 3 to 4 times a day. Use cushioned boot and crutches. Try the stretching and strengthening exercises as discussed in Achilles Tendinitis and Calf Splints. As the inflammation resolves and you are able to put pressure on your leg, it is time to add Heel Lifts in your shoes.

Exercise for Inflammation in Gastrocnemius and Soleus
Exercise for Inflammation in Gastrocnemius and Soleus

So, these are the possible lower leg pains after running that you can encounter and those were the prescribed treatments. However, there are a few to do’s that will help you prevent them in the first place.

How to Prevent Lower Leg Pain While Running –Steps to Follow Before, During and After

  • Before running, a dynamic calf stretch will subdue any chronic calf pains while running. Sit with leg spread ahead, gradually flex the ankle with toes pointed and bring the toes close to the floor and then towards the sky. Increase the motion slowly and repeat 15-20 times.

  • Drink plenty of water before setting out. Carry energy drinks and water to keep yourself hydrated during running. Muscle aches and sores will no longer bother you.

  • Put equal amount of pressure on the toes and forefoot and on the heels as they touch the ground. Lower leg pain while running can bother you the most when you are putting different amount of pressure on the heel and the forefoot.

  • Increase your cadence properly and steadily to avoid overstraining. Follow the 10 percent rule and maintain a proper training regime. Try running on the smooth pavement rather than on hilly terrains as uneven ground contribute to calf pains. Even better, run on a dirt trail or grass for softer paces.  

  • Learn to stop. A die hard attitude while you are suffering from pain will never help, rather worsen the matter. A few days rest is always fruitful than spending weeks in bed.

Increase your cadence
Increase your cadence
  • Try Wall Pushups (mentioned in calf splinters section). Place your palm against the wall, take step back to ensure that your legs are arm’s length away from the wall and step back with one leg to keep a shoulder’s width between the other leg. Now push the wall keeping your back knee straight and front knee bent, maintain for 15 seconds and do the same with the reverse leg. Repeat each session 3-4 times.

  • Change your sneakers when they are worn out.

  • After running, engage in yoga to soothe the muscles and strengthen them.

  • Take a break between runs and use your hand as a foam roller to prevent lower leg pain in running. Rub the shin below the knee to the ankle firmly and at a slow pace with the heel of your palm. Repeat 3-4 times for both legs.

  • Walk between runs. For example, run for 2-3 minutes and switch to walking for 1-2 minutes. This little interval will let your muscles function smoothly without swelling.

  • Land on your midfoot while stepping to give your heels a rest. You can also land on the balls of your feet for 30-60 seconds to give the shins a little break. Take bigger strides for 30-60 seconds in between normal paces.

  • Try the simple Quad Stretch whenever you get time to avoid lower front leg pain while running. Stand on your right leg (take a chair or hold the wall for support if you need) and bend your leg backwards from the knee so that both the right and left knees touch together. Pull your left foot towards the buttock by holding it with your left hand, keep your chest upright and try to attain a good stretch of the quad muscles. Maintain this posture for 20-30 seconds and then switch legs. Repeat the session 2-3 times.

While running, your focus should be on minimizing the symptoms of pain rather than how to get rid of the pain that has already got hold of you. While running is the main part, cross training alongside helps you getting accustomed to the vigorous training ahead. Strengthening and stretching exercises are your best companion to prevent those stalking pains.

Stop yourself from overtraining and exhausting the muscles. Give the muscles enough time to recover and then get into running. Lastly, never ignore your pain as it can turn into serious wounds that might need surgery later. You wouldn't wish to lie in the bed for weeks, would you? So follow the steps as mentioned and you will thanks us later.

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