Pains and functional issues with lower leg muscles are often due to misuse, overuse, or injury, though other issues that cause pain or instability are possible. Shin splints, for example, are common among runners or people who walk significant distances daily; strained lower leg muscles can occur in any person, but are more likely in people who are athletic or active in daily lives; muscle cramps are quite common and may be caused by dehydration, overuse, underuse, or lack of sufficient blood flow to the muscles. Ligament sprains in the knees or ankles can also cause pain in the lower leg, though not necessarily in the lower leg muscles.
A shin splint is an inflammation of the muscles that surround the shin bone, which can lead to pain throughout the lower leg. This injury is quite common among runners, as an inordinate amount of stress is often placed on these muscles during long periods of running. Shin splints can be treated through rest, light stretching, and icing to keep swelling down. Shin splints in the lower leg muscles are often caused by gait problems while running, and a sufferer might consider visiting a personal trainer to help correct his or her running motion.
Strains in the lower leg muscles are quite common during physical activity. A muscle strain occurs when the small fibers that make up a muscle begin to tear due to overstretching or twisting unnaturally. Minor strains can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation--known as the RICE treatment--and light stretching and exercise will be necessary once the injury has healed enough that little to no pain is felt in the legs. More severe muscle strains in which the muscle completely ruptures or tears may require surgery and will also require significantly more rehabilitation time.
Muscle cramps occur in the lower leg muscles when those muscles shorten too much during activity. Such cramps may lead to a muscle strain, but often the cramp leads to a temporary pain or ache that can be treated with brief rest, light massaging, and light stretching. Such cramping does not often require the sufferer to stop physical activity for more than a few minutes to an hour, though in more severe cases, pain may linger for several hours or days. To prevent muscle cramps from occurring, one should stay well hydrated, stretch thoroughly before and after physical activity, and condition properly for the athletic activity in which one is participating.