Calf and Shin Burning While Running

Burning in the shins and calves is common, but preventable.
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Burning in the calves and shins commonly affects runners, most often because of overuse or failure to stretch. Tight muscles are prone to injury and aggressive training programs might not allow muscles to adapt. Running too far or too fast can lead to strains and tears, which can become increasingly painful if ignored.

Anatomy of the Calf and Shin

The main calf muscles involved in running are the gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius -- the fleshy muscle at the top of the calf -- is responsible for forward propulsion while running. The soleus is located deep in the lower part of the calf and keeps you from falling forward. Both muscles attach to the Achilles tendon, connecting the calf and the back of the heel. Located on the front of the leg, or shin, the tibialis anterior muscle is involved in rotating the foot backward and bringing the leg forward while running.

Shin Pain

Shin splints, or pain in the front of the lower leg along the shinbone, are especially common in new runners and those with flat or rigid arches. As runners begin to increase distance, speed or frequency, the connective tissue around the shin and tibialis anterior becomes stressed from added force. Pain may recur at the beginning of each run or remain even at rest. Treatments include extended periods of rest and applying ice to the area for 15 to 20 minutes. If pain persists, see a medical professional. Pain in the shins may also be a stress fracture or compartment syndrome, which must be treated professionally.

Calf and Achilles Strain

Muscle strains and Achilles tendonitis can cause burning pain in the calves. Although mostly caused by overuse, pain near the soleus muscle may also begin with the introduction of hill work or when making changes to form, such as changing from heel-striking to running on the midfoot. These changes in training can cause muscle soreness and stiffness as the muscles become accustomed to being used in new ways. All can be treated with rest and ice. Stretching can help with calf pain, but it can also make Achilles tendonitis worse.

Preventing Injuries

To prevent common overuse injuries, warm up before strenuous exercise and stretch muscles once you’ve finished training. Make sure you’re wearing the right shoes for your running style and retire them as they start to wear out. Many running stores offer fittings to help you choose a reliable shoe. Always increase speed, distance or intensity gradually. Increase one factor by no more than 10 percent each week. If you do have a persistent injury, run less and see a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. Some injuries can become worse over time and others simply cannot be treated at home.

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