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I've been running in vibrams for around a year, gradually increasing speed and distance (to about 12 km)(a longer description of how I moved into vibrams is in this question). A few days ago I felt a sharp pain develop in what I think are my shins- the back of my leg, between the ankle and heel. I read here that shin splints are in the front of one's legs, and after reading this I thought maybe my Achilles tendon is to blame. When I tried running two or four days after this, the pain came back relatively quickly- before I had gone a single km.

UPDATE:

Even though that episode is behind me, it feels like my calves are super-sensitive now that I'm "barefoot" running. When running in regular shoes, if I started running fast (shortening my warm-up) I didn't feel like I was taking a crazy risk- but with vibrams it feels like if I skimp on the warm-up my calves are particularly likely to get pulled with disastrous results.

Does anyone else feel like the calves become unusually sensitive after switching to barefoot running?

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I don't barefoot run, so I can't speak to that. However, the mechanism of barefoot running and landing on the extreme forefoot places a lot of stress on the calves, as they are the major shock absorbers. I am not a fan of chi/pose/whatever, as I believe that the vast majority of runners self select the form that best fits them. In my opinion, I think all the "forefoot" styles are fads brought on by a misunderstanding of what heel striking really is, and more injuries are incurred by people switching to those styles. However, that is an opinion. –  JohnP Oct 15 '12 at 14:13
    
Vibrams don't actually have any science behind them. Seriously, try to find any studies they've done. While a lot of people find the balls of the feet a better running form (myself included), humans are terribly adapted at running on hard surfaces on the balls of the feet. There's a lot of stress on the joints in the foot, and untrained ligaments/muscles/bones will tear/splint easily. The same form in normal running shoes has left me pain free for months. –  MCM Oct 20 '12 at 23:38
    
Just an update - I've been running since this question was asked without incident - I'm doing runs approaching 20 km with them now. In March I'll try my first half marathon with vibrams; I'm cautiously optimistic. –  Eyal Feb 23 '13 at 21:23
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5 Answers

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I actually run in vibrams, and when I first began my calves were extremely sore for the first week or two. I think this is due mostly to the fact barefoot running forces people to run as nature intended, on the ball of the foot, causing the calf to work harder in order to support the weight. This would also put more tension on the Achilles tendon since it attaches the calf to the foot.

But you say you've been running for a while in vibrams, so what ever your experiencing is mostly likely more serious than under developed muscles and tendons becoming accustomed to new running gear, I'm no doctor but if I had to hazard a guess I'd say you pulled something. Regardless of what actually happened though the one thing I've learned in over 10 years of training is that if an activity hurts, don't do it. Get it checked out. Many times even small aches and pains can snowball and degenerate into debilitating injuries that can keep you out of the game for a while, and I speak from personal experience.

Several years ago I actually ended up tearing my Achilles tendon from my heel because I ignored all the warning signs of small nagging aches and pains which I thought I could just run through. Let me tell you that was one of the most painful injuries I've ever had to endure and it kept me from running for nearly six months.

So long story short. see a podiatrist and ask him what he has to say. It may be nothing, but it's better safe than sorry.

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It's not "shin splints". Your shin is at the front of your leg. Another more descriptive term for shin splints is medial Tibial stress syndrome. The tibia is in the front of your leg, not the back.

So, what you're feeling is likely a calf or Achilles issue, possibly an impingement. Whatever is hurting, it may be pulled, torn, inflamed (tendinitis), bruised... lots of possibilities; we can't diagnose you here.

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Had a very very similar injury. Was running for months in the Vibrams and then all of a sudden had similar pain. Probably because I increased the mileage too fast week to week, from about 20 to then 25mi/week.

Diagnosis ended up being an inflammation and to just rest and take prednisolone (pill form) for 2 weeks. Almost no improvement in 4-5 days, and then bam and all the pain was gone. But take it the full course.

In short - yup, it happens. Get it checked out. Even your primary might figure it out if it's simple enough.

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Calf tenderness is a common occurrence with barefoot/minimalist running. The achilles is in the back of the leg, from the knee to the back of the heel. It is NOT a shock absorber, but is a stabilizing muscle and propulsing muscle. It works harder when one runs barefoot.

Barefoot running is something that needs to be very gradually introduced into a training program, and there are some people for whom it will remain a very limited part of the workout routine.

Hope this helps. For the record, I am a podiatrist.

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For what it's worth, I've been a minimalist runner (mostly in Vibrams) for the past few years. At first, there was a lot of pain as my feet and "spring" built strength, then things settled down.

I did notice that as I slowly increased the mileage, I would often hit a wall and flirt with some pain like you describe (sometime underneath in the plantar fascia). I've come to realize that these are symptoms of tightness in the achilles (or the plantar fascia when the pain is at the heel).

A combination of tissue massage and long (3 minute+) stretches have produced good results.

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