The Importance of Breaking In New Shoes

Q I did a long run this past Friday in a new pair of shoes. I have been running in this same shoe but just got a new pair. I felt fine during and after the run but was late to get home so I didn’t stretch and just jumped in the car. On the way home I wanted to stretch my calves a bit so while driving I was flexing my ankle and holding it for a few seconds and repeated that a number of times. When I got out of the car my shin felt tight. Then, we flew out to Sydney on Saturday and it was still feeling tight. I noticed on Sunday that my ankle and lower 1/3 of the leg was swollen and there is a red area on the front of the shin.

It doesn’t feel like shin splints just the shin and tendons that run from the shin to the top of the foot are tight and painful. I tried running and it seemed to loosen up a bit during the run but afterwards it was super tight again. Any ideas what stupid thing I might have done or suggestions to get rid of it? – RIVA


A Lesson learnt! Even when we purchase the very same shoe, we still need a “break in” period for them. Ideally, the shoe is exactly the same, but, in reality, every pair can be slightly different, so proceed with caution. Keep the first three or four runs in any new shoes, even when they are the very same model, to less than 10 kilometres. One option is to return to your car during the run and change out shoes when you have a longer run on the schedule.

From what you describe, my guess is that the tendons of the lower leg muscles were irritated during your run or after your run. The tendons must pass under a thick band of connective tissue that wraps around the ankle, much like a bracelet, called the retinaculum. The tendons pass under this band to their attachment sites on the bones of the foot. This structure helps provides stability to the ankle joint and the tendons that cross the joint. It’s a tight fit and there is not much room for swelling so when this area becomes irritated we usually know it right away. Hence, the tightness and discomfort you are experiencing.

There may have been some small structural differences in the shoes that irritated these tendons, especially given the length of your run. Or, the terrain you covered during your run might have required more stabilising that usual, working these tendons hard. Pointing and flexing your foot afterwards when the muscles were fatigued may have irritated them further. And then, flying on top of that! Flying is always tough on us and can lead to blood pooling in the lower legs, so this probably compounded your issue. I always suggest wearing compression socks when flying to help with venous blood flow and to prevent blood pooling in the lower legs. So, what to do now?

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) is the prescription for you. Rest means no running for three days, ice regularly throughout the day for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, compress the area by wrapping it snugly or wear compression socks, and elevate your leg above your heart to assist blood flow return and minimise any swelling. If you can tolerate an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, then you can add that to the prescription too. If your ankle is not significantly better in three days, see your physician. And, remember, always wear new running shoes on shorter runs for several days before wearing them on a long run, even when they are “exactly” the same!

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