April 13, 2024

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Why Do My Calves Hurt When I Run? Reasons & Treatment

9 min read
why do my calves hurt when i run

We’ll discuss the causes of calves’ pain during exercise in this guide, along with suggestions for how to effectively manage the issue.

Numerous runners frequently complain about calf pain, whether it be soreness, dull or sharp pain, short-term or long-term problems, etc. The discomfort itself is a part of the problem, as is the frustration at not being able to identify the cause of the discomfort and find a solution.

But why do your calves hurt after running? What causes calves to be tight or sore after running, and how can you treat it? The causes and remedies are as follows.

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Why Are My Calves Sore After Running?

If you are experiencing tight or sore calves after running, it could be due to one of the following reasons:

You Might Have Sore Calves After Running If You Are a Beginner

Running often causes beginners to experience muscle soreness in the majority of their leg muscles because it takes some time for the muscles to adjust to the increased workload brought on by the new form of exercise.

After your first few runs, if your calves are sorer than your other muscles, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that your form or stride needs to be adjusted. Both the propulsive or push-off phase and the impact or ground contact phase of the running stride heavily rely on the calves.

In fact, if you’re new to the sport and your calves hurt after running, it may be a sign that your running form is sound and you’re using the right foot strike pattern.

why do my calves hurt when i run

Distance runners frequently strike their heels or land on their back feet, but doing so causes the lower limbs to be overworked and has a minimally positive effect on their ability to move forward.

The majority of experts agree that for optimum running economy and injury prevention, landing on the midfoot is ideal. The workload on the calves, or gastrocnemius muscles, increases as you land more closely to your forefoot.

As a result, if your calves are sore after your first few runs, it may be because you are landing on your midfoot or forefoot and using your muscles rather than your heel. This could be the cause of your calves’ soreness.

You Might Have Sore Calves After Running Hills

Running uphill puts more strain on your calves because they are responsible for knee flexion and plantar flexion of the foot.

There’s a good chance that you’ll have sore calves after your workout if you did a challenging hill repeats workout or a hilly run.

You should notice that you experience less soreness after hill workouts as your calves gain strength over time because the relative demand of a hill workout will become less demanding as your muscles become stronger.

Knee-Dominant Running

The point of peak knee flexion, or PKF (which, visually, is when your stance leg is fully planted on the ground), is one area we examine when examining running form for potential biomechanical errors.

During PKF, focus on the positioning of your lower leg — if your shin is angled forward, pushing your knees out past the tip of your toes, you run with “knee-dominant” form. Since the shin is being subjected to excessive loading, the steeper angle means that your calf muscle must exert a lot more effort to support the shin.

why do my calves hurt when i run

Additionally, your knee ends up taking the brunt of the impact forces when you land because it is protruding too far forward. Your joints must bend more to try to make up for the lack of shock absorption when this excess loading is placed on the joints rather than the appropriate muscle groups.

This causes the ankle to dorsiflex more, which exacerbates any strain or loading on the calf muscles and tendons.

Improper Foot Landing and Biomechanics

However, when it comes to the foot, high dorsiflexion is not the only biomechanical aspect to take into account.

Overpronation, which occurs when your feet roll inwards too much during the stance phase of your gait, causes the arch of your foot to flatten out more than it needs to, is a very common deviation for many runners.

Your lower leg may eventually angle out laterally (even just a little) if you pronate excessively. Even though it may not be visible to the unaided eye, over time, the repeated impact forces of your foot landing can put a strain on your outer peroneal muscles.

Similarly, the crossover can have a similar result; if your feet land outside of your body’s midline, your legs are probably positioned at a lateral angle when they make contact with the ground. The tendons and shin bones in your calves, which are passive structures, receive an improper distribution of the impact forces that your body must then absorb.

Improper Shoes That May Cause Calf Pain

Most runners these days know about “minimalist” shoes that claim to make you run more naturally. The majority of the runners I observe in practice, though, seem to have never heard of or taken into account the heel-to-toe-drop (offset) when selecting a new pair of shoes.

The heel-to-toe drop essentially informs you how much your heel is higher than your toes while wearing the shoe. Standard running shoes typically have a drop of about 12 degrees, but you can also get drops of 8, 6, 4, and 0 degrees. A 0-degree heel-toe drop (your foot is essentially flat) is typical of minimalist footwear.

why do my calves hurt when i run

Most runners will be forced to alter their running style to run more on their toes when wearing a flatter shoes. As was mentioned in the previous section, this will put more strain on the calf muscles. If you change to a flatter trainer too soon from a regular one, your calves might get overworked and sore.

Adduction Or Internal Rotation at the Hip

Overpronation and this problem frequently coexist.

You can bring your leg closer to your body’s midline by engaging your hips in hip adduction. (As you raise your legs to a standing position again, picture jumping jacks.) But when your thigh turns inward, you get hip internal rotation.

Both mechanics are important components of other types of training, such as flexibility or mobility, but they can significantly impair a person’s ability to run correctly. This affects the rest of your kinetic chain, where your lower leg subsequently angles inward, in addition to increasing loading at the knees.

These compensatory mechanics work together to cause an overall lateral bend or inward bowing of the leg. The Achilles tendon and other calf muscles must absorb more lateral forces than they were designed to handle as a result of the additional loading this causes.

Symptoms of Calf Pain

The typical symptoms of PAES and PAD include cramps and lower leg pain. Furthermore, rest helps both conditions’ pain. In actuality, there are other similarities between the symptoms of PAES and PAD.

Classic PAES symptoms include:

  • Cold feet after exercise
  • Numbness, burning, or tingling calf muscle pain when running or exercising
  • Heavy, numb, or swollen legs
  • Calf cramps, especially during exercise
  • Changing skin color
  • Blood clots

There is no doubt that many of these symptoms are also PAD red flags. How then can your Houston vein expert identify the origin of your symptoms? The diagnosis can be made based on a few clinical indicators.

why do my calves hurt when i run

How to Treat Calf Pain?

Your practitioner can specify the kind of treatment that is most appropriate for your recovery once the primary cause of the injury is established, along with the current degree of pain and inhibition. But, regardless of the severity of the injury, calf strain recovery is built upon five main staples of training:

Muscle Activation

Building a neural pathway between your brain and your muscles to enable the recruitment of those muscle fibers during particular movement patterns is known as muscle activation.

The brain’s ability to communicate with a muscle set can deteriorate as a result of an injury (or years of relying on other muscle groups), making it more difficult to recruit the muscle set and resulting in form compromises.

Using specific, targeted exercises, your physical therapist can help “retrain” your brain to access necessary muscle groups and encourage proper biomechanics.

Muscle Strength

Muscle Strength is required once all your muscles are “awake” and accessible. You might not have as much strength in a particular muscle group as you should if you’ve neglected it over time to help counteract the strain from running.

why do my calves hurt when i run

Depending on your needs, your practitioner can recommend specific exercises that will take several weeks of focused effort to complete, such as exercises that target the tibialis anterior or work those glutes!).

Movement Control

The next stage in avoiding injuries and practicing proper biomechanics is movement control. When you have a strong base of activation and strength, you can start to control that power with movements that are specific to your sport.

This could involve performing coordination exercises like split squats to work on hip control or pallof presses to strengthen your foot muscles.

Stability Training

Although the purpose of stability training is to improve reflexes and reactions in the lower extremity, it sounds a lot like motion control. Numerous minute adjustments are needed while running, such as to the internal balance or the slope of the pavement.

Your muscles must get practice reacting to unexpected stimuli in order to achieve this. Working on a balance board or responding to a gentle push while in a running stance are two examples of this.

Running Retraining

Running Retraining is the final, crucial piece to resolving calf pain long-term. Without addressing the underlying problem that led to the injury in the first place, your pain will return eventually even if the aforementioned strategies temporarily relieve it.

Retraining for running entails improving your running technique to reduce impact, generate more power, and avoid injuries.

How Long Does Treating Calf Pain Take?

The degree of tissue damage that is present is the first factor that affects your potential timeline. Generally, the severity of a calf tear or strain is discussed using grades, which refer to the depth and suddenness of stretch the calf underwent as well as the accompanying symptoms.

The most severe strains, grade three strains, signify a complete rupture or tear of the calf tissue. When a grade three strain happens, the calf’s function is immediately restricted and accompanied by severe or excruciating pain. In these situations, surgery is almost certainly necessary, and recovery will take time.

Mild tissue damage is described as grade two strains. Your pain level will be moderate, and you would likely be able to continue with the activity, but shouldn’t. The pain will probably be more intense, and any swelling or bruising may be obvious.

Grade one strains are mild, and they may come with some sensitivity and pain, or they may just be too tight in the calf. After an activity, symptoms may take a day or more to appear.

why do my calves hurt when i run

The healing times of strains in grades one and two can vary greatly. Low- to medium-grade sprains can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3–4 months to completely heal, depending on the extent of the injury and the prompt medical attention received in the weeks that follow it.

Your timeline will also be impacted by the type of rehab required, which necessitates diving into why your injury occurred in the first place and how to prevent recurrence in the future. (So, in essence, it’s time to become a biomechanics investigator!)

How to Prevent Sore Calves After Running?

Generally speaking, it is possible to lessen the likelihood of developing sore calves after running, though this depends somewhat on the underlying cause of the muscle soreness. Here are some preventative strategies:

  • Gradually increase the distance and intensity.
  • Be sure to drink enough water before, during, and after your runs.
  • After your run, foam roll and stretch.
  • Consider heat therapy or ice baths.
  • After your run, consume a snack or meal that has a 3:1 or 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio.
  • Increase your hill workouts when your calves are feeling better to strengthen them.
  • Get your calf muscles stronger.
  • gradually reduce shoe drop to zero.
  • Reduce your step length and speed up your cadence.
  • Increase hip range of motion.

Conclusion: Treating Calf Pain

This condition shouldn’t be disregarded because, if untreated, it can quickly turn into stress fractures. Depending on how bad you let it get, it is also a well-known stubborn injury that could take several months to heal.

You’re ready to stop running with a sore calf. Spend no more time training through the discomfort. Get back to feeling your best and most active self by making an immediate appointment with your doctor.

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