Calf pain after running is a very common complaint shared by many runners. Around 80-85% of runners say they have experienced some form of calf pain after running. Whether you are starting your own running program or are currently training, it is important to know how to prevent calf pain, and how to deal with it when it strikes. A Podiatrist plays an important role with many sport injuries of the foot and ankle.
Why calf muscles hurt after running
The calf muscle is one of the most important muscles when it comes to running. The soleus muscle which sits underneath the gastrocnemius muscle produces 6 times our body weight in force when we run. So you can imagine that these muscles work really hard in the lower leg and can result in calf soreness. It is useful to complete strength training in addition to running itself to look after these muscle groups well.
Other symptoms of calf running can be feelings of calf tightness and being painful to touch the calf. If you haven’t run in a long time, the chances of being sore are quite high, however, if you are a more experienced runner, then this effect typically only occurs during longer or higher intensity runs.
How to prevent calf soreness after running
There are a number of different ways to prevent calf soreness after running. One of the most important ways is to do an appropriate warm up. Not only can this reduce soreness, but it will also help reduce the chances of an Achilles tendon injury. Meaning it can ensure the connective tissue in the lower leg is ready for the running you’re about to do.
Another way to prevent this is to run more frequently. I am sure you have been for a run before or even to the gym and lifted weights, only to find the next day you are super sore. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness, but you can overcome this through the repeated bout effect. Meaning the more consistently you do an exercise, the less sore you become from it the following day.
Finally, foam rolling can be great both before and after running. It also helps warm up and cool down the muscles, reduces tightness in the calf or can get rid of annoying or painful knots.
Calf Stretches for pain relief
Calf stretches are important to help with pain relief and also to prevent painful muscles after running. They also increase our ankle range of motion, meaning our joints can function more efficiently when we run, reducing our chances of calf pain to begin with. There are a variety of stretches available, some are shown below:
These stretches should be held for 30 seconds each leg and repeated 3 times each day. Stretching is also more effective post running, rather than before it. Stretching sends a signal to our muscles to relax, so this is great for after running but not before.
How gait can affect calf soreness
Our running gait has a massive impact on the amount of calf soreness we experience. Runners who land on their forefoot (toes) when they run, use their lower leg muscles a lot more and for a longer period of time. This may result in more calf soreness when compared to a midfoot (middle) or rearfoot (heel) strike runner. No particular way of running is inherently bad for you, unless you are getting pain which is caused by your running technique. For example, if someone is a forefoot striker when they run and experience a lot of calf pain or soreness after running frequently, then it may be in their best interest to change their technique. This can be challenging but podiatrists can assist this transition into pain-free running.
How shoes can cause and prevent calf problems
Shoes play a huge role in running, with some shoes being inherently better or worse for you. The minimalist shoes or toe shoes, are the same as running barefoot. These place a lot of stress on the foot and leg joints, and muscles. This could potentially increase the amount of calf pain you experience post running. Shoe tips can be found in our guide to buying running shoes.
Most shoes have something called a pitch. This is essentially how high the back of the shoe is compared to the front. Shoes with a higher pitch (12mm) tend to take more stress and strain off the calf muscle when compared to a shoe with a lower pitch (4mm). This is because there is less distance the muscle has to travel between contracting and relaxing, meaning it will work less. This does not mean you want to run in high heels though. Every foot is different and everyone has their preferences. Shoes can be a great tool though for those with more severe calf pain or more frequent pain than others. Learn more about the role of shoes in our blog series.
How to know if your calf pain is serious
Calf pain is serious if it has been ongoing for longer than 4 weeks. If every time the pain occurs after running, it is time to have it looked at. If pain post-running also extends for longer than 1-2 weeks, then that is another indicator that this should be looked at.
Sometimes, there is the chance that runners get what is called a calf strain or simply a small tear in the calf muscle. These can be very painful, cause a lot of bruising, inability to bear weight at all, and much slower recovery. This type of injury should be looked at immediately by a podiatrist.
The return from a calf strain or calf injury is typically between 14-30 days and depends on which muscle is directly affected.
Treatments for calf pain
Treatment for calf pain starts with the prevention mentioned above, such as the calf stretching, foam rolling, running technique, shoes and warming up. However, there are treatments for calf pain as well. These include:
- Single leg calf raises: On the edge of a step, going up and down at a tempo of 2s up, 2s down and a 1 second pause at the top and bottom. These can be made more difficult by doing them with added weight. It is important to ensure your weight goes over your big and 2nd toes. This is done for 12-15 reps x 3 sets once per day, or on days you are not running
- Seated calf raises: As mentioned above, the soleus muscle is super important in running. Doing seated calf raises will target this muscle and should be done to the same tempo as above. These can normally be done for 6-8 reps x 4 sets with the biggest focus being strength
Trigger Point Dry Needling:
- Needles can be inserted into the tight areas of the muscle to release trigger points and lengthen the muscle. Helping it to relax and reduce soreness
Soft Tissue Massage:
- Like dry needling, soft tissue massage can also help to release trigger points and tight areas of a muscle, allowing it to relax. The pain of massage can vary from person to person, muscle to muscle and depending on the tightness of it.
Calf pain usually comes and goes, the more you train the less it will affect you.So if you are someone who experiences calf pain after running, you should now know there are a number of things you can do to prevent it from happening again, and speed up your recovery. Our antigravity treadmill unique to our clinic is also beneficial to return to running fast!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a podiatrist help with calf pain?
Podiatrists can definitely help with calf pain! Whether it is severe and needs a moon boot or requires some soft tissue massage, shockwave, dry needling or taping.
Can you run with calf strain?
Ideally with a calf strain we don’t want to be doing too much running. Pain is usually the biggest determinant of this though. A good rule is 4-5/10 pain is okay but anything more, then it should be avoided.
How long can calf strain last?
Calf strains can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks, depending on the severity of it and how well it is managed through rehab. It is important to see your podiatrist as early as possible.