As Melbourne enjoys summer many people become more active. Unfortunately, this can lead to an increase in lower leg injuries whether from sport or other physical activity such as gardening. While many lower leg injuries are quite treatable with physiotherapy, prevention is important and can save you a lot of pain and limitation if addressed in time. Some common lower leg injuries we see are calf strains/tears, achilles tendinitis and shin splints from running. Running is popular as a form of exercise during the pandemic as it’s outside and distanced from people, so avoiding/preventing injuries is more relevant than before.
Calf injuries often occur from overloading whether as a result of repetitive overloading or a one-off event such as pushing off playing tennis or in futsal. Given the calf’s ability to cope with this load is primarily driven by its strength, if you have had a long time off doing such a specific activity it will become deconditioned. To prevent these injuries, make sure you are warmed up properly before pushing your body harder, but also ensure you are properly prepared for the exercise. Depending on the type of exercise you are doing you may need to strengthen the long calf (Gastrocnemius) or short calf (Soleus) as these muscles function differently. Consider also the type of activity you will be performing and ensure the strengthening is tailored to it i.e., explosive/dynamic vs uneven terrain vs rotational forces.
Achilles tendinitis is very common and almost always occurs as a result of cumulative overloading, otherwise known as repetitive strains. Typically, impact-based sport or activity is involved but it can occur from longer periods of walking and walking on uneven terrain. Once the tendon becomes inflamed it becomes quite stiff and sore often worse first thing in the morning. Managing the inflammation is important in the early stages but full recovery and prevention comes from strengthening. It’s not uncommon for runners to develop Achilles tendinitis, rest for 2-3 weeks, feel better then return to running, only for the pain to return. Strengthening of tendons can differ from strengthening muscles, so this needs to be considered along with tailoring exercises specifically to an individual’s physical demands.
Thirdly, shin splints are common with people more active over summer, along with footy pre-season starting up. While the term shin splints is rather vague and incorporates a number of different injuries, they tend to have similar factors to the injury. Again, most of these types of injuries occur as a result of repetitive overloading along with poor biomechanics. Too much shock force and jarring lower in the leg can cause overloading. Ensuring your body can control these forces especially through the larger and stronger muscles of the thigh and glutes will reduce the load and stress in the lower leg.
If you do develop a lower leg injury for whatever reason, or reading these risk factors you think some may apply to you and want to address them before issues occur, contact our team at Fairfield Physiotherapy for assistance in getting you back to your best.