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Foot and Leg Pains that You Shouldn’t Ignore.

Tennis Shoesphoto © 2009 Beatrice Murch | more info (via: Wylio)While walking and running are both excellent workouts, these activities are often accompanied by foot, knee or leg pains. When ignored, these pains can develop into chronic problems.  While the initial problem may seem somewhat bothersome, the real issue arises when you stop working out because of pain. Here are a few tips on the most common foot and leg pains:

1. Plantar fasciitis

What does it feel like? Tenderness on your heel or bottom of foot. Most noticeable when you wake up in the morning.

The plantar fascia is the band of tissue that runs from your heel bone to the ball of your foot. Its purpose is to absorb shock and support your arches. When strained, small tears develop and the tissue will tighten to protect the muscle, yet, causing foot pain. The muscle can also become inflamed if there is an abrupt change in your exercise routine. People with high arches or who walk on the insides of their feet (known as pronating) are particularly susceptible. If the problem is left untreated, it can cause a buildup of calcium, which may create a painful, bony growth around the heel known as a heel spur.

What to do about it?  When you begin to see signs of stiffness, start doing a daily stretch. Sit with the ankle of injured foot across opposite thigh. Pull toes toward shin with hand until you feel a stretch in arch. Run your opposite hand along sole of foot; you should feel a taut band of tissue. Do 10 stretches, holding each for 10 seconds. Then stand and massage your foot by rolling it on a tennis ball, or a bottle. 

Start wearing supportive shoes with a contoured footbed whenever possible. Choose walking shoes that are not too flexible in the middle. 

Orthotic inserts are helpful. Until you can walk pain free, stick to flat, stable walking/running routes (dirt path!) and avoid pavement, sand, and uneven ground that might cause too much flexing at the arch.  

If your plantar fasciitis worsens, meet with a podiatrist regarding a night splint.

Achilles tendinitis

What does it feel like? Pain in the back of your heel and lower calf.

The Achilles tendon, which connects your calf muscle to your heel, can be irritated by an increase in exertion. Repeated flexing of the foot when walking up and down steep hills or on uneven terrain can also strain the tendon, triggering lower leg pain.

What to do about it? For mild cases, reduce your mileage or substitute non-weight-bearing activities such as swimming or upper-body training, so long as these don’t aggravate the pain. Avoid walking uphill, because this increases the stretch on the tendon, irritating it and making it weaker. 

Regular calf stretches may help prevent Achilles tendinitis. In severe cases, limit or stop walking and place cold packs on the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes, up to three or four times a day, to reduce inflammation and pain. 

When you return to walking, stick to flat surfaces to keep your foot in a neutral position, and gradually increase your distance and intensity.

Shin splints

What does it feel like? Stiffness or soreness in your shins.

Your shins have to bear up to 6 times your weight while you exercise, so foot-pounding activities like walking and running can cause problems for the muscles and surrounding tissues and create inflammation. The strain and leg pain results from strong calves pulling repeatedly on weaker muscles near the shin. 

Spending too many hours walking on concrete can also lead to this sort of inflammation. If your pain is severe, or pinpointed in the shin, you may have a stress fracture.

What to do about it? Cut back on your exercise for at least 3 to 8 weeks. If it hurts to exercise, then don’t. You might need an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, or cold packs to reduce swelling and relieve pain. 

In the meantime, keep in shape by cross-training with low-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling. You should also strengthen the muscles in the front of the lower leg. You can try this exercise for strengthening:  while standing, lift toes toward shins 20 times. Add a 3 lb weight across your foot as you get stronger.

Runner’s knee

What does it feel like? Throbbing in front of your kneecap.

Every time your shoe strikes the ground, your knee feels it. Eventually, your kneecap may start to rub against your femur (the bone that connects your knee to your hip), causing cartilage damage and tendinitis. People with a misaligned kneecap, prior injury, weak or imbalanced thigh muscles, soft knee cartilage, or flat feet, or those who simply exercise too much, are at greater risk of runner’s knee. The knee pain usually strikes when you’re walking downhill, doing knee bends, or sitting for a long stretch of time.

What to do about it? Shift to another type of exercise until the knee pain subsides, typically 8 to 12 weeks. Do some quad strengtheners to help align the kneecap and beef up support around your knee:  While standing, place a looped band around both feet and sidestep 12 to 15 times to right, then back to left. Side shuffles work nicely as well.

Sources: prevention.com; Rodale, Inc.

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