Foot, ankle, and lower leg issues are frustrating. They can take a long time to resolve, even when getting physical therapy for it. Sometimes it seems like no matter how much you stretch and strengthen the lower leg or the foot, things just don’t get better. Perhaps it is because the wrong area is being addressed. You may be addressing the symptoms rather than the cause.
When pain or injuries remain through the exercises, modalities, or therapy we are doing for it, the wrong area is being addressed. We are essentially barking up the wrong tree.
I was reminded of this firsthand recently. Yes, I am a physical therapist, but I let the athlete brain take over instead. I began experiencing shin splints, so of course I started to work more on my foot strength and ankle mobility. The shin splints kept coming back. Starting around 1 mile, going away around 3 miles. It was very consistent.
On the most recent occurrence, I stopped to stretch the muscles of my lower legs to calm things down, except this time I was unable to even hold a calf stretch – it was too uncomfortable in the muscles on the front of the shin. Instead, while I was standing there, I decided to do some leg swings. You know, those things that I should have done as a dynamic warm up PRIOR to running.
When I went back to my calves they were miraculouslylooser.
Sometimes I need to experience situations for myself to get a reminder on how things in the body are related and why I do what I do with my athletes on a daily basis. This was one of those moments.
I frequently discuss with my runners how the hips and foot and ankle region are related. I talk about how important hip mobility is for mobility in the foot and ankle region. And yet I didn’t even consider that being an issue for myself because I tend to work hip mobility on a regular basis…just not before I ran.
In all reality, I ignored all the advice I give my runners – I didn’t do a warm up and I didn’t do any dynamic running drills first. As a result, I suffered needlessly and wasted time.
I share my story for a couple reasons, 1) so you can stop punishing yourself for the things you may not realize, because we all do it, and 2) to give you an understanding on how the body is truly all connected and related.
When dealing with knee, lower leg, and foot and ankle pain or injuries, you always need to consider the role the hip plays. The hip needs good stability and control in order to keep good alignment through the leg as it is on the ground. If it lacks control, the knee can fall inward, the foot can fall into increased pronation, and/or the leg can wobble. All of these issues will eventually contribute to an injury. It is not really a matter of “if,” but more a question of “where and when.”
Along with stability in the hip, the hip also needs to move well. A tight or stiff hip will result in compensations in the rest of the leg in order to get the foot on the ground effectively and move your body forward. Along with that, tightness in one area of the body can result in tightness in another area – and area that may seem very unrelated. For example, there is a direct relation between tightness in the quadriceps and tightness in the calves.
Ultimately, if you are experiencing issues in your lower leg and/or foot and they aren’t clearing up, it is time to look somewhere else. I would start at the hip.
What issues are you experiencing in your lower leg or foot that aren’t going away? Email Brianne at [email protected] with your questions regarding your pain or issues when running.