Why am I having leg, ankle and foot pains when I walk and jog?
June 23, 2014 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I recently started a mix of walking and jogging for an hour a day, to help me lose weight. I'm about a hundred pounds overweight and until now have been pretty sedentary. Since I started walking and jogging, I've had aching, tight pains in my shins, ankles and heels. What could be causing this? Is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening?

Shin pain: starts when I start walking. Gets worse the longer I'm moving. Fades when I stop walking.

Ankle and heel pain: Achy when I start walking. Okay after a minute or two. Then throughout the day if I sit for a while and get up, I'll hobble in pain for a couple of minutes.

At first I figured the pain was normal. I haven't exercised in years and some aches are to be expected especially since I'm carrying extra poundage. But it's been about a month and the pain has gotten worse not better. Plus I figure if it was weight-related my knees would be aching too and they're not.

Could this be a sign that something's wrong that I should get checked out by my doctor? Should I just look into wearing ace bandages or braces instead? I started walking and jogging on my doctor's recommendation. Am overweight and have high triglycerides and my MD is concerned that could turn into 'metabolic syndrome'
posted by qi to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What shoes are you wearing? I get horrible shin pain when I run in crappy shoes; in running shoes that are right for me, I don't. If you haven't been to a good local running store where they can help you pick a shoe that is right for your gait and activity, that might be a good start.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:56 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 2nding good running shoes. I have also found compression socks to be good for my shin splints - no idea why - but it helps me.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 12:59 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shin splits are extremely common overuse injuries. They are almost comically easy to get when you first start and are annoying to rehab. Rest, ice, elevate, anti-inflammatories. Stay off them until they get better completely, which could be several weeks.

When you start again, you need to start easy and give your muscles and bones time to catch up. Couch to 5k (which is only 30 mins/day, 3 times a week) is the canonical plan. You can try neoprene sleeves for compression, and get fitted for good shoes, since pronation issues can exacerbate shin pain, but it's really about not doing too much at once.

If you keep running, the usual advice is to increase distance or time by no more than 10% each week to prevent injury. You went from 0 to 7 hours of exercise a week!

Feel better soon and get back in it as soon as you can!
posted by peachfuzz at 1:05 PM on June 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

I forgot to say, you should take the shin splints seriously because they can easily become stress fractures, which take a lot longer to heal. Swim or bike in the meantime if you'd like to stay active.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:07 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think that the fact that your knees don't hurt doesn't mean that your ankle pain isn't weight-related.

Do you stretch? What kinds of shoes are you wearing?

I second peachfuzz. Cut back for a week. Shin pain can easily come from overuse, and it will most likely go away with rest.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:07 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Never occurred to me that my sneakers might be part of the problem. I'm wearing New Balance MX 609 Trainers in an extra wide width. New Balance's website doesn't show them so maybe they're discontinued. But they do show a 608 that's similar.
posted by qi at 1:09 PM on June 23, 2014

Best answer: Going from nothing to an hour every single day is way too fast. Cut back to 30 minutes every other day for at least a month, and then gradually increase your length of time and frequency. Rome wasn't built in a day (but you sure can destroy your tendons fast).
posted by telegraph at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2014 [18 favorites]

An hour a day is way too much for a beginner, IMHO. But also, get your shoes checked. You need to be in the right running shoes for your body, and you need to be evaluated by a runner.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It will probably help, both with running/walking and with overall fitness, to develop some muscular strength before you do much running. Calf lifts, anything to strengthen your ankles and feet and legs so that they can sustain the (not insignificant) impact of running.

Shin splints are a classic "too much too fast" injury. I'd take some time to rest and strengthen the muscles that are supporting your weight. Walk more than you're running, at least for the next few weeks. Then add running back in small increments.

The heel pain sounds like it could be plantar fasciitis. Strengthen your feet, stretch your arches, and get some good shoes. It'd be worthwhile to visit a specialty running store and get an orthotic to put inside your running shoes for extra support.

As you're starting out, now is probably a good time to review form. Don't land on your heels! Chi Running was a great resource when I began. The more you work on your form, as as you get more fit over time, the less pain you'll feel overall.

Good luck! The longer you stick with it, the easier and more fun (and painless) you'll find it.
posted by magdalemon at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to a gym? You might find it easier to use an elliptical machine, which can give you a good cardio workout with much less impact to your joints.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:15 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Peachfuzz and magdalemon, the pain in my shins fades when I stop walking and running. I just looked them up online, but didn't see anything about pain that fades away. Should I be considering the pain I'm currently experiencing a warning sign? Or is it still a shin splint if the pain only happens when I'm walking or jogging?

Thank you everyone for the advice. I'll find a local running store and see if they can assess my gait and needs. Will cut back, too. Doctor scared me and I guess I bit off more than i could chew to start.

magdalemon and a blazingsaddle, I'm not stretching. But I will start! Will also pick up Chi Running. Thanks for the rec.
posted by qi at 1:37 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Shin splints will only hurt when you're using the muscle (i.e., walking and running). They don't hurt when you're just sitting around.
posted by something something at 1:41 PM on June 23, 2014

Response by poster: OK. Thank you for explaining.
posted by qi at 1:44 PM on June 23, 2014

Best answer: Also, when you heal and start exercising again, have you been walking and running on sidewalk/pavement? This can be hard on you, particularly when you are overweight and starting an exercise program. If you have the option to walk on grass or a surface that is not so hard such as a machine, you should definitely do that.

Also, consider swimming for exercise if that is an option for you. It is much less stressful on your body.
posted by gudrun at 1:45 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: BlahLaLa, I could join a gym. I prefer being outside, though.
posted by qi at 1:46 PM on June 23, 2014

Best answer: I get shin splints really easily, and one of the things I finally figured out is that you really do have to warm up *every time*. Stretches plus starting slowly - I really need to stroll leisurely for at least 5 minutes before I start walking with more serious intent.

Sometimes if my time management game is really fabulous I get dressed for my walk, then do housework for 20-30 minutes (taking out the trash and recycling, sweeping/vacuuming, backyard dog poop patrol) to get warm and moving around, and then go straight out the door for my walk, just stopping for a minute to do stretches on my front step. It makes a difference (and my house is cleaner).
posted by Lyn Never at 1:49 PM on June 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Is it possible for you to bike? It would be a more gentle start-up for you. It doesn't have to be a fancy sports-type bike. One of my friends lost a lot of weight and became far healthier just by riding peacefully an hour a day on an old-fashioned granny bike.
Also - maybe in the beginning you should walk, not run. My doctor, who loves running advises against running for overweight people (like me) because it is too tough on the joints and ligaments.
posted by mumimor at 1:52 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: gudrun, I've been running on a path at a local park which is black pavement.

Lyn Never, That's good advice, thank you.

mumimor, yes, I could bike. Would have to buy one.
posted by qi at 2:01 PM on June 23, 2014

Best answer: Just to say that the Run 5K app not only has the incremental Couch 2 5K program, it also has guided stretches for warm up and cool down. It can be hard when you're starting to know what muscles to stretch out and how after a workout, and this app covers all your bases.
posted by dumdidumdum at 2:11 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: since you like being outside when you exercise (i do too!) try to find hiking trails, synthetic tracks (local high schools typically have these) or grass to soften the blow. pavement is pretty hard on the joints! one thing to keep in mind about trail running though is you need to keep an eye out for roots, rocks, etc.

new running shoes (properly fitted as mentioned above) will also help lessen the impact and provide you with better stability. a good running shoe store will have a camera setup to watch your gait and analyze how your foot lands to find the right shoe for you.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 2:12 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've had this problem too, since I'm a long term cyclist who's only recently started running. In addition to doing calf raises and other exercises to build strength, you'll need to do stretching--lots of stretching, like once when you wake up, once after you jog, and once before you go to bed--of your calves, quads and hamstrings. They're going to be very tight muscles because they're not used to being used, and that puts more stress on your shins, ankles etc.

I'd recommend going to a physical therapist if you can--some states have open access laws, where you can go for a month without a prescription--to help diagnose the stretches and exercises you need.

And seconding everyone else on good running shoes, orthotic (I find SuperFeet work well for me), and not trying to do too much too quickly.
posted by thecaddy at 2:14 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your heal pain could be Plantar Fasciitis.

This is something I struggle with and can be extremely painful. But bear with it, it does improve with time! (at least for me!)
posted by JenThePro at 2:34 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been there. Two suggestions.

1. A nice (~$100) new pair of running shoes that fit well and you ONLY wear for running. The idea is to make sure the soles have a chance to uncompress between wearings; this doesn't happen as well if you wear them daily.

2. Running compression socks. I have these and they are great. They really mitigate shin and muscle pain.
posted by zug at 4:19 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're starting from Couch, I would try walking first, at least until your knees and legs get used to it. Hal Higdon has a free 5K Walkers training schedule.
posted by bentley at 6:07 PM on June 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Custom orthotics did world of good for me. I saw a chiropodist who took a custom mold of my feet to produce the orthotics.
posted by juiceCake at 6:49 AM on June 24, 2014

I dealt with the starting-up shin splints for the better part of a year. Had to take a lot more rest days than I wanted to. I will say that eventually I just didn't get them anymore.

I had the same experience as you, that the pain would fade away once I got going. I didn't know if it could possibly just be endorphins making it feel better.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:50 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did this (took up Couch25K to lose weight), and had knee, shin, and heel pain. Immediate relief came from:
  • new proper running shoes (not the beatup cross trainers I just used because I already had them and I wanted to prove to myself that I was going to stick with the running before investing in equipment - BAD IDEA)
  • Chi Running helped with my alignment, making running just generally easier
  • self-massage - especially trigger point work on legs and hips. "X" marks the spot to stroke slowly 6-8 times at a shot (ideally before and after running)
That said, I ended up quitting running because even with those aids, it still hurt. Besides, everything I've seen indicates that walking is the best (and most sustainable) exercise.

If losing weight is your primary focus, consider your diet. I have lost the weight with the Fast Diet, and am now working on building strength with bodyweight exercises. No joint pain and minimal stress.

Remember: A muscle ache is one thing; pain is your body telling you something is wrong.
posted by sazanka at 9:08 AM on June 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another possibility for the shin pain is overuse of your tibialis anterior muscle.

It's basically used to keep your to pull your toes up so that they don't catch on the ground when you take a step. I sometimes have pain in this muscle during runs because I'm not using my upper leg muscles to lift my entire leg, and instead I'm relying on the tibialis anterior too much. The muscle will get pumped and really painful, and then loosen up in 5-10 minutes after I stop running. It's particularly problematic when I haven't exercised in a while and I'm going (even slightly) uphill.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:28 PM on June 25, 2014

Response by poster: Follow Up:

I want to thank everyone who took the time to answer. You've been fantastic and helpful.

I bought great running shoes and an orthotic insole that weekend. I learned i don't walk properly (overpronation).

A week after posting this I was going down a flight of stairs in my house wearing socks. Slipped, fell 10 steps and sprained my ankle. Went to my doctor. He thought my legs looked puffy and put me on a water pill. A diuretic.

I cut back too. Started warm up stretches. Spent the last 8 weeks doing the Hal Higdon walking schedule. Will begin to ease into the Couch-to-5K next week.

Since then, no more shin splints. The combination of all those factors probably helped get rid of the pain.

Thanks everyone.
posted by qi at 11:49 AM on November 14, 2014

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