Calf Injuries: Prevention and Recovery
Running injuries are common. It’s a sad reality that staying away from injuries can be a bit of a tricky feat for a lot of runners, halting your momentum for weeks and causing a fair lot of pain too.
A common area that often suffers is your calves. While you might not think they hold as much fragility as say your knees or ankles which take on board a lot of weight as you run, your calves often the things that suffer the most from overworking, pulls, strains, and more serious injuries like Achilles' tendons. Needless to say, it’s not very fun when calf injuries strike.
‘Why are your calves so prone to injury?’, you might ask.
Your calves are at risk when you run because they are one of the biggest bearers of weight and movement in your body as you run. Think how many times your leg has to be raised and leave the ground in even a 5K or 10K — it’s constantly stretching forward and lagging behind your body, meaning it’s stretched, taking weight, time and time again, which can often lead to overworked and injuries calves.
Calf injuries don’t always come with a pop – although, that feeling of a nasty pull is definitely one you’d want to avoid. Instead, they can start with a twinge or tightness that leaves you feeling rather uncomfortable, before (if left without acting upon) developing into a tighter, worse strain that can leave you sidelined for a while.
So what’s the solution? Well, thankfully, you don’t just have to live in fear of an inevitable injury, nor should you just wait for one to unwelcomely turn up on your doorstep as you return home from your training.
Sometimes it’s not as powerful as a full injury, but a small pain or ache in the back of your calf that seems to suggest your body is telling you that you need to take it easy before you over-egg it.
Instead, a little tweaking to your routines and the way you take care of your body can go a long way to keep injuries at bay.
Preventing Calf Injuries
Get warm, stay cool
If you’re a runner, this is a given, but one of the best ways to stay fit and injury-free is to warm up and cool down!
When your muscles aren’t warmed up, they lack the same ability to stretch or withstand bodyweight that a properly warmed muscle can. It’s all about getting the blood pumping around your muscles and making sure you’re actively ready to bear the demands of a gruelling session – and it’s often overlooked or rushed.
Don’t rush it! If you really want to be steering clear of muscular injuries like calf injuries, then you need to be properly engaging the muscles you’re going to put through their paces when you run with a vigorous warm-up each time you prepare to head out.
Gentle easing into your exercise, with movements like calf-focused stretches, lunges, shipping, kicks or jumping jacks will all help to do the trick.
And hey, don’t think after your big ol’ run session you’re off the hook – cooling down is just as important as warming up, so don’t overlook that either!
Cooling down works to ease your body back to its resting state by ‘cooling’ the muscles down from the levels of full-on activity when they were warm. Nobody wants tight muscles, and cooldowns are just what that prevents.
Slowing down on your final few laps to a gentler pace, walking or taking it a bit easier is a good start to get you back to a regular heart rate while stretching out your muscles will allow them to stabilise and not become tight or frustrated.
It sounds simple, but often the rush to get on out there and round up those miles can weigh strong against the routine warm-up and cooldowns, and those who don’t are always at more risk of calf pulls and other nasty injuries. Fight the urge to just get going and instead, look after your muscles.
Beef up your legs
Beefing up (otherwise known as strength training) can help you to prevent the risk of calf injuries when you run. That’s because as you strength train your legs, you’re building up the strength in your legs and increasing the load of weight that your legs can manage.
Calf-focused lunges and raises will really help this while heading along to the gym to put on some more leg muscle won’t do you any harm either.
Stretch it out
Flexibility training – like strength training – is recommended to build up what your calves can handle.
To do this, it’s good to think about what your calves actually are. The two main muscles that make up the calf are the gastrocnemius and soleus. Stretching out these muscles will help you to allow increased flexibility and should be held for 30 seconds to a minute to really get them nice and elasticated.
Funnily enough, there are both Gastrocnemius and Soleus stretches respectively, and they both require you to stand facing against a wall. The former requires you to bend your forward leg and stretch one leg out behind you and hold it in place to feel the calf muscle tighten. Keep it in place for 30–60 seconds.
For the Soleus, your trailing leg doesn’t need to be as straight and far behind your body but instead is bent at the knee as you lean into the wall, and held until you (again) feel your calf tighten up, and again hold that in place for around a minute or so.
Easing Calf Injuries
If you’re unlucky enough to have already been struck down by a calf injury, then, unfortunately, you’ll have to take a bit of time off from running. That said, there are still some things you can do to ease the pain, make your movement more comfortable, and get yourself well rested to be back out running in no time.
Walk before you can run
There are forms of exercise you can do which will help you get back on your feet while you still might not be able to run comfortably.
Easing back into more demanding aerobic exercise should be something you build up to, starting by walking at varying paces to see how your body feels. If you feel capable of doing a bit more, then try other non-running exercises like cross-training or biking to see how your calves feel with a bit more effort placed on them.
Working up to fitness will allow your muscles to retrain and become accustomed to the different pressures you’ll put on them – and after a while, you’ll be back on your feet and running like normal.
Massage your muscles
Massages relax the muscles, increase blood flow, repair damaged tissue, and aid rest and recovery no end. In short, they do a lot to help you recover from muscle problems.
It’s also never been easier to have a massage. There are an abundance of electronic massagers, like deep tissue massagers, that apply rapid pressure to tight muscles to ease tension and stiffness and ensure quicker recoveries from strains and aches in tight muscles.
Of course, if you’d rather a professional took care of your aches and pains, then you can book yourself in for a genuine massage too. A regular massage is especially good for preventing tightness and knots in your muscles anyway, but having one as part of your recovery will also be very useful.
Get out the roller
Rolling exercises (usually with a foam roller) are beneficial to muscle relaxation and stretching and work your muscles to relieve tension and tightness.
With a bit of pressure on your tight calf muscles, using a foam roller can work those nasty muscle knots, helps blood flow and ease your calves to allow you to better recover (and faster too).
If you don’t want to fork out on an expensive deep tissue massager, or an actual massage therapy session, foam rollers are a cheaper yet effective alternative that gets your calf injuries back on the mend.
Sting and the P.O.L.I.C.E.
No, not that one.
P.O.L.I.C.E. stands for Protection, Optimal Loading, Ice, Compression, Elevation. It’s a recommended procedure suggested by health professionals for anyone who’s suffering from strains, sprains and the like. So let’s break it down.
- Protection: Don’t forget to rest during the first few days after you’ve suffered from an injury. It’s all about providing protection to the area by not placing too much pressure of demands on it, which in the case of your calves, means not too much walking and certainly no running.
- Optimum Loading: This section references the slight easing that you can muster while you’re still in the protection phase of your recovery. Be mindful of the amount of weight you’re placing on your calf, and be careful to use the muscles as minimally as you can. It’s all about building up to being able to use your muscle normally again, while also being mindful that too much too soon inevitably means longer on the sidelines.
- Ice: This is probably the one you’d think of first when suffering from an injury, and with good reason too. Applying ice lessens swelling around injured muscles and can take away a bit of the pain too.
- Compression: Compressing the muscle with some tape or a bandage (alongside ice) will similarly help your muscles recover.
- Elevation: This is often thought to be used more for knocks to your joints, but it’s important for minimalising swelling.
You can also think of R.I.C.E., which is another popular method for handling injuries which means Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation – but P.O.L.I.C.E. offers a bit more which should be taken on board. Plus, it didn’t offer up such a fun title for this section either.
Y’know, there is another way you can combat niggles and prevent the risk of injury… and it’s called STRIDESENSE.
We’ve developed a state-of-the-art fitness tracker which helps you to elevate your performance and steer clear of nasty injuries by altering your habits.
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Want to know more? Head on over to attisfitness.co.uk to learn how STRIDESENSE can help your running.