Fitness Column: Lower leg lessons

Every sport requires either long stride movements or jumps, and either of these exercise moves will put stress on the lower leg.

Overuse injury to the lower leg can result in shin splints, posterior and anterior compartment pain, calf muscle strain, or injury to the Achilles tendon. Learning how to deal with the first slight twinge in this area can make the difference in sport continuation.

The runner who is slightly bowlegged will come down in a pigeon toe movement, landing on the ball of the foot. Result, a possible stress fracture of the outer bone (fibula), of the lower leg. When someone comes to me with this complaint, I have them run facing the mirror to check the angle of the retraction of the foot. Few of us have a perfect run and stride. The tendency to overlook proper placement of the foot is common. No one concentrates on foot placement when dodging trucks and snakes. When you discover the injury, the best plan is to avoid running until the stress fracture heals. Then try to correct your pigeon toe gait.

Shinbone stress fractures are more straight forward. Running for longer distances on hard surfaces such as roadways, and the tendency to "leap or bound" when you stride, will add to the discomfort and severity of this type of stress fracture. Again, the same period of healing applies and the same slow work back into the sports routine. Make sure that your shoes are well padded and try to shorten your gait and make it more smooth with less bounce.

The posterior and anterior compartment pains are overuse injuries that happen with long exertion. Calf muscles in the posterior portion of the lower leg have trouble expanding within the sheath that surrounds it as the heel comes down, and front and outside shin muscles in the front of the lower leg are stressed with the lift of the forefoot and toes off the ground. Avoid rough ground, hills and step up movements until the strain relieves.

The Achilles tendon travels from the calf to the heel. It is a strong tendon, but has a low blood supply. Jumpers, dancers and any sport that requires the leap movement will sometimes cause stress to this important tendon.

Any of these injuries to the lower leg need the attention of a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Time heals, and it is hard to lay off exercise, but that is a logical answer for your pain.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.

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