If you’re suffering from calf pain caused by running and looking for ways to treat and prevent it, then you have come to the right place.
Sore calves are a common problem for runners.
They can happen naturally as the body’s natural response to the load placed on the muscles while running.
In today’s article, I’ll be looking at:
- The common causes of calf pain in runners
- How to treat calf pain from running
- How to prevent calf pain from running
- And so much more.
I hope the guidelines shared within today’s article will help you soothe and stop your calf pain and injury more effectively and get you back to running, pain-free, as soon as possible.
Let’s get started.
Sore Calves From Running Explained
To understand the mechanisms behind calf pain, it’s key to first understand the region where the calf pain originates.
The calf muscle is made up of two primary muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The former consists of the larger and bulkier of the two, which stretches from just above the knee and inserts via the Achilles tendon onto the heel.
The gastrocnemius gives your calf its shape and is in charge of pointing your ankle toward the ground as well as bending the knee joint.
The soleus sits underneath the gastrocnemius and is the more slender lower part of the calf.
The soleus is also mainly made up of slow-twitch fibers; therefore, it plays a significant role in endurance running.
Both muscles fuse together to form the Achilles tendon.
When you run, a load of roughly three to four times your body weight is absorbed by your skeletal system.
The calf muscles are the first contact point and play a major function in dispersing the force and helping with forwarding propulsion.
Dysfunctional calves can also put you at a higher risk for overuse injuries such as Achilles tendonitis since there’s a greater load being placed on your muscles and joints.
Your Calves On Running
Log enough miles, and you’ll realize, sooner or later, the importance of the calf muscles while running.
Now let’s put this in perspective.
On average, a runner can take up to 1500 strides while running a mile.
Any dysfunction in the lower leg muscles or anywhere else in the kinetic chain or running technique can cause more stress placed on the calf muscles.
Calf problems are more common in beginner runners or those coming back after a long break as the calves adapt to running.
This makes runners more susceptible to a plethora of injuries, such as:
- Calf strain
- Ankle sprains
- Plantar fasciitis
- Achilles tendinites.
Let’s look into some of the main causes of calf pain in runners.
Overloading The Calf
The most common cause of calf pain in runners comes down to sudden increases in training load over a relatively short period of time.
These may include increasing weekly distance, introducing and adding speedwork or hill reps, increasing training intensity, etc.
This is the reason calf pain is much more common in beginner runners or those coming back to the sport after a long layoff.
One of the most common complaints in runners is calf strain or tear.
Also known as a tear or strain, this injury happens when one of the calf muscles is stretched beyond its limits, forcing it to break away from the Achilles tendon. When this takes place, you may feel or hear a pop in your calf muscle.
Another less known culprit for calf pain in runners is dehydration.
Losing too much fluid and salt through sweat can cause muscle cramps in the lower extremities, especially the calves and feet.
Lack of Warm-up
Skipping a warm-up is another common cause of calf pain from running.
A lot of runners do not appreciate the importance of a proper warm-up, but most will learn the hard way.
It’s also common for runners trying out barefoot running for the first time to come down with calf pain.
When you run barefoot, you may excessively land on your forefoot, loading the Achilles tendon and calf muscles more than when running in shoes.
Too Much Cross-Training
Running is not the only activity that loads your calves.
Cross-training workouts, especially strength training and cycling, may fatigue your calves before you start running.
How To Treat Calf Pain While Running
Keep in mind that treatment options for calf injury can vary depending on the nature and type of the injury itself, but the following guidelines tend to work in most cases.
Cramps consist of painful and sudden muscle contractions that can last for a while or for several minutes.
These are quite common and usually occur during high-intensity exercise—especially when running.
If you’re dealing with a cramp in the middle of a run, try to slowly stretch and massage the affected area.
If pain persists, try doing some of the legs stretches for a few moments to try to soothe the cramps.
If all else fails, stop running and consult your doctor to rule out the causes of the cramps, especially if it’s a re-occurrence case.
If you’re suffering from a strain, you can use the RICE method:
- Rest the affected leg.
- Ice the affected area 15 to 20 minutes three times a day using an ice pack or bag of frozen peas.
- Compress the injured area with a bandage but pay attention to pain. If it gets worse, loosen the bandage.
- Elevate the affected leg while sitting or sleeping.
In serious cases of pain, consider taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, to soothe your pain and bring down swelling.
See A Doctor
If all home treatments prove futile, then you should consider consulting a doctor or physical therapist to root out the cause of your pain and review your options.
This is especially the case if you’re experiencing symptoms such as swelling, severe pain, needles or pins or numbness, and skin redness.
Some therapists may prescribe a few deep tissue massage sessions to help with recovery.
They may also recommend using a night splint to stop the muscles from seizing up.
The Return To Running
In most cases, running through calf injury will only make things worse.
That’s why you should go back to training until your calf is strong and your knee and ankle are back to normal function.
Otherwise, you’re risking re-injury, and you don’t want that.
I can assure you!
How To Prevent Calf Pain When Running
There are many things you can do right now to prevent your calves from getting sore while running.
Let’s look at a few.
To help avoid running pains, not just calf soreness, start all of your runs with a proper warm-up.
Invest a few minutes before each run to briskly walk, perform a few dynamic stretches, like inchworms and butt kicks, before you jump into the actual workout.
Dynamic stretching improves your range of motion, which enhances your balance and muscle efficiency.
Strengthen Your Calves
Strength training, especially in the form of eccentric training, can help guard you against calf soreness while running.
Most experts recommend performing the single calf raise for strengthening this muscle.
You can do this by doing a simple exercise such as single calf raises.
Ideally, you should shoot for three sets in the 25 to 30 rep range.
Do this two to three times a week, preferably on your non-running days.
As a rule, you should be able to perform the same amount of reps on both sides.
If it’s not the case, then you might have a serious imbalance issue that you need to fix ASAP.
Keep in mind that doing eccentric training for the first time may cause damage to the muscle fibers, which leads to calf soreness.
That’s why it’s key to slowly introduce eccentric loads on the muscle—and not do too much too soon, unless you’re looking for trouble.
Stretch Your Calves
Improving your calf flexibility another thing that can help prevent muscle soreness while running.
Perform the stretches the proper way by doing the following:
- Don’t rush. Stretch slowly, holding each pose for 30 to 45 seconds. Take your time.
- No pain. If you experience pain while stretching, ease back, and keep mild pressures on the muscle until it relaxes on its own. Don’t rush it.
- Right and left. Always stretch both sides to make sure your gait is balanced.
- Stay calm. Avoid bouncing or jerking when stretching, as this increases your risk of strain or rupture. And you don’t want that.
Try the following stretches
Standing Calf Stretch
Heel Drop Stretch
If you want to take stretching to the next level, try yoga.
There’s a reason why a downward-facing dog works very well for lower body flexibility and mobility.
Stay Well Hydrated
As I touched upon earlier, drinking plenty of water during training is key for avoiding not just calf soreness but all sort of trouble.
As a rule, shoot for at least 60 ounces of water every day—drink more if you’re training in hot weather and are sweating profusely.
You should also consider adding electrolytes—or a pinch of salt—to your water to keep and increase magnesium, sodium, and potassium levels.
Start your workouts well hydrated, and keep drinking on the go, especially if you’re running for more than one hour.
Proper Running Shoes
Head to the nearest running specialty store and ask the staff there to analyze your running gait and style, and help recommend a few pairs that match up with your needs.
You should also consider using custom orthotics or insole if you have flat feet or high arches—consult with a podiatrist before you make any decision.
Improve Your Running Technique
Another thing to pay attention to when dealing with calf pain from running is your technique.
Make sure to change up your stride if you suspect that’s contributing to your pain.
Visualize yourself landing on the rear part of the ball of your foot instead of your toes.
This should help you instill a proper midfoot strike.
For more, check out this video.
Most cases of calf pain from running are the result of doing too much too soon or having some sort of dysfunction in the calf muscles—often a bit of both.
As I have explained in today’s article, a mix of rest, training changes, and some strength and flexibility work can go a long way in resulting in the problem.
The rest is just details, really.