If you’re currently experiencing calf pain caused (supposedly) by running, then you came to the right place.
Calf issues are a pretty common complaint about runners.
But if you take good care of your calf muscles by keeping them limber and strong, you’ll not only cut the risk of injury but improve your endurance capacity and athletic performance. What’s not to like!
So, let’s get started.
The Anatomy Of The Calves
Before I delve into the main lower leg injuries for runners and the exercises you need to prevent them, let’s take a quick look at your calf muscles.
The calf is made up of two muscles:
- The Gastrocnemius muscle. The larger calf muscle, forming the bulge visible beneath the skin and gives your calf its rounded shape.
- The Soleus muscle. The longer and flatter muscle extending underneath the gastrocnemius and lower down the leg.
These two muscles are the primary source of power for the motion of ankle and foot.
And as you can see in the image above the lower leg region is a complex system of muscles, joints, and tendons. Any sort of damage or injury to these structures—pretty common among runners—can lead to calf pain.
Some of the main conditions caused by such dysfunction include shin splints, calf pulls, and stress fractures.
What are Calf Pulls?
Also known as calf tear or strain, these happen when one of your calf muscles, usually the gastrocnemius muscle, is stretched beyond its limit and breaks away from the Achilles tendon.
These pulls can be caused by doing too much too soon (increasing training volume without proper training) or from sudden movement such as pushing off, jumping, or making a quick turn.
When a calf pull occurs, you may potentially feel or hear a pop or snap in the muscle. But in most cases, you’ll experience sudden and sharp pain in the back of your calf.
Over the few coming hours, your calf may feel sore and stiff, but you’ll still be able to put weight on –though it may be a little uncomfortable.
In cases of severe calf muscle tears, bruising and swelling will visible.
What are Shin Splints?
Shin splints are caused by damage and/or degeneration of the muscles and tissues that attach to the shinbone—the tibia.
The main symptom is a dull ache or sharp pain on the inside of the lower leg bone when walking, running, or putting any weight on the affected limb.
Some of the main factors that contribute to the condition include running on hard terrain, overpronation, improper shoes, and most importantly, tightness and weakness in the calf muscles.
The pain is worse on your first few minutes into a run but subsides once you’ve warmed up.
Read more about how to deal with shin splints here.
What are Stress Fractures?
Stress fractures consist of tiny cracks on the surface of one of your tibial bones caused by repetitive microtrauma to the bone that outpaces the body’s ability to heal itself.
More specifically, fractures in runners tend to strike the upper and lower aspects of the tibia as well as the lower aspect of the fibula.
Left unchecked, the condition will get worse over time, turning into a debilitating injury that requires long weeks of treatment for a full recovery.
Out of all shin injuries, this condition requires the strictest rehab and takes the longest for full recovery—typically 8 to 12 weeks of rest.
Discover how to treat and prevent stress fractures while running here.
Other Causes of Calf Pain
The above three conditions do not cover the full gamut when it comes to the conditions that can manifest as calf pain.
There is a variety of ailments that can affect the calf muscles, as well as the tissues and blood vessels around it.
Here are few :
- Baker’s cyst
- Compartment syndrome
- Neurogenic claudication
- Achilles tendinitis
- PCL injuries
- Trapped arteries or vessels, such as the popliteal artery.
- Arterial claudication
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Varicose veins
- Deep vein thrombosis
The Calf Strength Exercises You Need
Here’s the good news. Calf pain can be minimized or prevented by taking certain precautions. One of the best ones is strength training.
1. Double-Leg Calf Raises
This is one of the standards and best calf-strength building exercises out there.
You can either use weights or your body weight on this one.
Start by standing on the tops of a step bench or a stair with weight in hand, feet hip-width apart. Stand near a wall for balance.
To protect your joints, make sure your hips, knees, and ankles are in vertical alignment.
Next, step up to your tiptoes, pressing down into the balls of your feet to raise your body upward, hold for a moment, then slowly lower to the floor.
Repeat for 16 to 20 reps.
2. Soleus Squats
Begin by leaning against a wall with feet shoulder-width apart.
Next, slide back down the wall until your knees are bent at a 90-degree able, then raise your heels off the floor.
Activate your core by sucking in your belly toward your spine.
3. Heel-Toe Walk
Start with good upright posture, arms out to your sides to help you balance, lengthening through the spine.
Next, focus on a stationary object in the room, then walk across your forefoot off the floor.
After 8 to 12 steps forward, depending on your space, step backward and walk back on your tiptoes to the starting position.
4. Seated Calf Raises
This is a fantastic exercise for targeting the soleus muscle—a muscle that’s not easily targeted during other calf exercises.
You can perform the following exercise by sitting in a chair and placing some weights, like a dumbbell or a plate, on your lap, or with a seated calf machine at the gym — your choice.
Begin by sitting on a chair, or calf raises machine, then rest the ball of your feet on a step or block. Keep the weight on your thighs for resistance.
Make sure your toes are turned inward 15 degrees, and knees bent at a 90 degrees angle.
Let your heel drift toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your calves. Then press the balls of your feet into the ground, and raise your heels as high as possible.
Then lower the weight slowly to a count of five to engage the muscle.
5. Single-Leg Calf Raise
To make the previous exercise more challenging, you can do it on one leg.
Behind by stand on a step or a block on one leg, other leg bent behind you, and near a wall for balance.
With your weight resting on the ball of your foot, let your body sink toward the floor and stretch your calf.
Hold for a moment then drive the ball of your foot and press down into the ball of your foot to raise your heel. Hold the top position for a moment, then repeat.
Keep your core engaged, so you avoid shifting forward or backward.
6. Jumping Calf Raises
Start by standing with feet flat on the ground with your hands at your sides.
Next, while keeping your core engaged and back flat, forcefully press off the floor with the balls of both feet, then jump into the air, landing softly on the balls of your feet, absorbing the force by dropping into a half squat.
You should feel the tension within your calf muscles, not the quadriceps.
There you have it. The strength exercises mentioned above are some of the best moves that can help not only prevent calf pain while running but also reach your full athletic potential. That’s a good thing if you ask me.
Now the rest is up to you. You need to take action on what you’ve just learned. Or nothing will change.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.
Keep Running Strong.