Running is a sport for everyone regardless of age, gender or wealth. It is a sport that takes you out of your comfort zone and shows you the real meaning of having no boundaries. It gives you freedom, makes you creative, and provides you with positive mental health benefits. If you are anything like me, you also love running and enjoy the different aspects that come with it.
You push yourself every single day and get a better outcome with every effort you make, and the better outcomes also help you feel accomplished. However, pushing yourself too hard or having the wrong gear, or a wrong running strike can result in problems and running injuries and one of the most common injuries almost anyone faces is calf pain or calf soreness.
Although calf pain is not anything serious, it is still no joke as it can be so painful that you lie awake at night in pain and wonder where did you go wrong, (talking from personal experiences). Studies have shown that almost 60% of adults feel calf pain and if it is nocturnal and recurring, the side effects can keep you from getting peaceful sleep, leading to insomnia and can end up affecting your life.
Thus, it is important to find out how to treat calf pain so that we can be the best athletes that we are! So, let’s see what exactly calf pain is and easy ways to prevent and treat it:
What is Calf Pain?
Your calf is made up of three muscles, the soleus, the gastrocnemius, and the plantaris, and in any leg or foot movement that we do i.e., running, walking, or any leg exercises, these muscles are used and any injury to any of them can cause calf muscle strain. Calf pain is the feeling of discomfort or acute pain that you feel in the back of your lower leg i.e., between the knee and ankle.
The calf strain can be of two types- one is muscular strain and the other one could be due to underlying conditions like nerve damage, severe trauma, blood sugar levels, or any other disease for which you should definitely seek medical help. We will focus on muscular pain which is linked to physical activities such as running.
What Are The Causes of Calf Pain While Running?
We are most likely to experience calf soreness and pain after we restart our running routine, and the most common reason for that is when we restart, many of us focus too much on getting as fit as we were before, we overcorrect our running stride, we push ourselves too hard, we end up ignoring the sign our body is giving and in the pursuit of being the best that we once were, we end up hurting our body and making running painful for us.
By over-correcting our stride and shifting to a forefoot stride, we increase the impact of running on our toes and that results in calf strain. Pushing yourself too hard and running faster than your fitness level and calf strength also puts pressure on the forefoot which again is the cause of calf muscle pain.
Moreover, running in the wrong kind of shoes or while wearing an ill-fitting pair of shoes can also lead to calf pain. Dehydration can also be a cause as the loss of salt through sweat also causes muscle stiffness and causes cramps in the lower area of our bodies.
Apart from all these, muscle weakness is also a leading cause of calf pain as the calf muscles can lack endurance and unless you do some strengthening exercise and stretch properly before running, the weakness can make it difficult for you to run.
How Can a Runner Prevent Sore Calves?
We know what causes calf soreness, now let’s see how to prevent this so you can always be on the go:
Having The Correct Running Stride:
When you run, always aim for a midfoot stride because this will help your feet arches to flatten a bit when your foot hits the ground, and it lowers the impact of running on your muscles and thus prevent calf pain.
Listening To Your Body:
Do not try to run faster than your fitness allows you to. Listen to your body and stop if you feel your calves are getting sore and or are hurting you. Run slowly but with a quick cadence and keep improving your pace from there.
Build Your Base Fitness:
While developing your base fitness as a runner, you should run for the time. Timing your run and seeing how much you and your legs can endure and for how long will work wonders for you and you can then increase the distance little by little.
Don’t Forget to Stretch:
Never work out with cold muscles, always warm-up and stretch your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and groin thoroughly. Walk a bit before stretching to reduce the stress on your muscles.
Go Easy on the Hills:
It’s easy to overwork your calves on the hills because you are extending your calves a lot on the hills and putting pressure on your toes and calves. Try to balance hills and flat surfaces, take breaks and slow your pace while running on the hills.
Get the Right Pair of Shoes:
The only gear runners need is the right pair of running shoes so if you love running, invest in a pair that fits you properly and provides the support that your feet need, and elevates pressure from your toes and calves. Consulting a podiatrist for custom insoles or orthotics will also help you in the long run!
To avoid sore calves, stay hydrated as the salt that escapes your body through sweat affects your legs and causes calf muscle cramps.
Create a Running Plan:
Increased activity and heavy exercise every day can make calf muscles injury more frequent, therefore, balancing your workout routine is extremely important.
Remedies You Can do at Home to Relieve Pain and Calf Soreness
Although, the treatment can vary from person to person and consulting a doctor is important, calf pain among runners is common and is caused by overworking the calf muscle. To treat this at home, you can do the following:
You are probably tired of hearing this term by now but calf stretches are an extremely effective way to prevent as well as treat the sore calves that are common in runners.
Stretches you can do for calf pain are:
1. Glute Stretches:
Your glutes should be the main muscles that stabilize your body while running as this will save your calves and toes from the impact and increase hip function while running. Therefore, it is important to stretch your glutes. Try this:
- Holding a Glute bridge for 30 seconds.
- Doing monster walk, 10 steps each side and to the back.
- Doing side leg lifts, 5 to 10 on each side.
2. Calf Wall Stretches:
- Face a wall and put your hands on the wall at your eye level and put the sprained leg a step behind your other leg.
- Keeping your affected leg straight and the heel on the floor, bend the knee forward and bring your hip and chest to the wall. You should feel the stretch in your affected area.
- Hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat this 2 to 4 times.
Some other stretches that you can do are bilateral calf stretch, ankle plantarflexion, and bilateral heel raises at the step. These stretches will help you ease the pain.
R.I.C.E (Four easy steps to heal calf cramps):
- Rest: Taking a break or finding an alternative way to exercise would do be a sensible step as your calf muscles will have time to heal up because if you keep running, the injury might get worse.
- Ice Therapy: Using ice or cold therapy can also help. Applying ice in 20 seconds intervals will also help ease some of the pain and will calm the blood vessels as well.
- Compression: Wearing a compression sock or sleeve can also help in reducing fatigue and calf injuries as it stabilizes the calves, reduces muscle cramp, and increases blood flow.
- Elevate: Elevating your legs above your heart level helps decrease the swelling and it is useful when it comes to calf soreness.
Taking medicines like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen can also help with inflammation and pain. Always consult your doctor before taking any kind of medication.
Having a Sports Drink:
If your calf pain was a result of dehydration, having a sports drink can help restore the fluids and electrolytes to your body and as a result ease the pain.
Use a Foam Roller:
Using a foam roller can also help with stiffness. Take any roller depending on the size of your muscle and roll for a good two minutes.
Many runners face challenges, and an injury or pain is not something we can opt out of, what we can do though is paying attention to the symptoms, following up with a doctor in case of recurring and severe pain for a thorough diagnosis, stretching properly before running, and staying hydrated to stay fit and healthy. Furthermore, using targeted exercises for calf pain two to three times a week, and using a running plan according to your stamina can help you avoid calf pain and injuries and can also help you recover faster.