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We outline the most common causes of ankle, shin, calf and achilles pain as well as some of the less common causes.
Use the quick links below to jump to more detailed information on the following:
Visit our ankle pain page for a full explanation of the various types of ankle injury. We outline the most common ankle injuries as well as some of the less common causes of ankle pain and important conditions that can often be missed. We explain acute ankle injuries which are sudden traumatic injuries such as an ankle sprain or a broken ankle as well as gradual onset ankle pain for the inside of the ankle, outside of the ankle and front of the ankle.
Visit calf pain page for an in depth look at the various causes of pain at the back of the lower leg. The most common cause is a calf strain or tear to one of the calf muscles at the back of the lower leg. We also explain some of the least common causes of calf pain as well as some important conditions that should not be missed such as a DVT or deep vein thrombosis.
Visit our shin pain page for an introduction to the various causes of pain at the front of the lower leg. Shin splints is a general term used to describe pain at the front and inside of the shin of which there are a number of causes. We examine the most common causes as well as some of the less common conditions. We explain the various treatment methods available including cryotherapy (ice) and specific stretching and strengthening exericses.
Achilles tendon pain
Achilles tendon pain can be caused by a number of different injuries and conditions. Many of these causes of achilles pain will have very similar or identical symptoms and respond to similar treatment methods. We explain the various injuries that can occur at the back of the ankle such as achilles tendinitis, achilles bursitis and Sever's disease which affects young children between the ages of 8 and 15 years old.
Quick links to some of the more common lower leg and ankle injuries.
Anatomy of the lower leg & ankle
This is a very brief description of the bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons and muscles which make up the the lower leg which can become injured. For a more detailed description see ankle anatomy.
Bones of the lower leg & ankle
The tibia and fibula are the two long bones which make up the lower leg. The tibia is the thicker weight bearing bone on the inside and the fibula is the thinner bone on the outside. The purpose of the fibula is to provide and area for muscle attachment. The ends of all long bones are covered in a hard cartilage known as hyaline cartilage. Its purpose is to protect the ends of the bones and provide a smooth low friction surface for movement.
There are 26 bones in the foot and ankle. The talus and calcaneus ankle bones connect to the tibia and take the weight of the body. There are five other bones at the back of the foot known as the tarsal bones which help make up the ankle.
There are 100 ligaments in the foot which connect bone to bone. The lateral ligaments on the outside of the foot (talofibular ligaments and Calcaneofibular ligament) are most commonly injury from an ankle sprain. The medial collateral ligament also known as the deltoid ligament is found on the inside of the ankle.
Muscles are connected to bones via tendons. There are 19 large muscles which contract around the lower leg, ankle and foot to provide movement along with many small muscles within the foot itself.
The muscles of the lower leg are divided into compartments called the anterior compartment, lateral compartment, deep posterior compartment and the superficial compartment.
The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are the big muscles at the back of the lower leg which are known as the calf muscles. The gastrocnemius is the larger more powerful muscle and originates above the knee. The soleus is the smaller deeper muscle and originates below the knee so needs to be stretched with the knee bent. Together the main effect of these muscles contracting is to plantar flex the foot (or push the foot downwards).
The tibialis anterior muscle is the large muscle on the outside of the shin. When contracted it dors flexes (pulls the foot up) and everts the foot (turns the ankle outwards).
See our muscle pages a more detailed explanation of the muscles of the lower leg.