Ailments of the Lower Leg and How to Avoid Them
With warmer weather, many people will return to outdoor activities for the first time in months. One of the more common activities for health-conscious adults is jogging. As beneficial as running is for good health, You must take care after a winter layoff to avoid early-season injury. The four most common lower leg injuries in runners are:
- Shin Splints
- Achilles Tendon Injury
- Plantar Fasciitis
- Stress Fracture
The term “shin splints” (or medial tibial stress syndrome) refers to pain and tenderness along the medial (inside) aspect of the tibia (shin bone). While this ailment isn’t unique to joggers, running is one of the most common causes. Repetitive activity leads to inflammation of the shin bone’s periosteum (or lining), which is quite painful. The muscles in the front of the shin may be involved as well. Treating shin splints includes using the “RICE” regimen (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) and modifying activity. Runners affected by shin splints should decrease weekly mileage, cross-train with other types of cardiovascular exercise, stretch, and consider the use of anti-inflammatory medications. If symptoms persist, consult a physiotherapist to exclude more serious conditions.
Achilles Tendon Injury
The Achilles Tendon is in the back of the lower leg and attaches the plantar flexor muscle group (calf muscles) to the calcaneus (heel bone). Although the tendon is one of the thickest and most robust in the body, it is still vulnerable to injury due to the excessive force it is subjected to during running. The most common Achilles tendon injury is tendonitis (or non-specific inflammation), caused by overuse. Tendonitis generally results when runners increase weekly mileage too quickly or suddenly add hill training to the exercise routine. Treatment is usually conservative, using the RICE protocol. Also, anti-inflammatory medication and shoe orthotics may be employed to decrease pain and help to heal.
Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury of the foot’s flexor soft tissue (or the sole). The condition involves heel pain that generally occurs after rather than during exercise. Runners are vulnerable, as are women, overweight individuals, and workers that spend long hours on their feet. Treatment is usually non-surgical, with the RICE protocol, anti-inflammatory medication, gentle stretching exercises, and orthotics. In severe, unremitting cases, surgery may be required.
A stress fracture is an overuse injury. In runners, stress fractures most commonly occur in the feet, shins, or hips. Stress fractures result from the fatigue of the bone, generally related to repetitive motion. Intense, repetitive exercise leads to tiny microtrauma to the bone. Over time, without proper rest, the damage becomes cumulative, resulting in a painful, non-displaced fracture of the bone. Treatment focuses on rest. Failure to stop the repetitive activity can lead to a more severe and complete fracture or chronic lower leg problems.
Prevention of these common lower leg injuries is a matter of using sound judgement when training. Runners need to use a common-sense approach and avoid over-exertion early in the outdoor running season. The following tips should also help:
- Choose your running shoes carefully.
- Consider using orthotics if you have had foot or leg problems.
- Always warm up and stretch before exercising. Focus stretching routines on the calf, hamstring, and quadriceps muscle groups.
- Increase distance and speed gradually by no more than 10% per week.
Physiotherapy for Runner’s Injuries
Physiotherapy is very effective in treating injuries commonly experienced by runners. Here are some ways physiotherapy can help:
- A physiotherapist can assess the cause of the injury and identify any muscle imbalances, weakness or stiffness that may have contributed to the injury.
- Physiotherapy treatment may include manual therapy, such as massage or mobilization of the affected area, to reduce pain and improve flexibility. Exercise therapy may also be used to improve strength and balance.
- Physiotherapy can help with the rehabilitation process, gradually reintroducing runners to activity and helping them return to their pre-injury level of performance.
- Physiotherapists can provide runners with advice on injury prevention strategies, such as stretching and strengthening exercises, proper footwear, and training schedules.
Physiotherapy can be an effective way to manage and prevent running injuries, helping runners to stay healthy and achieve their goals.