Calves are one of the most important running muscles in the body. They are one which propels you forward, absorb shock, and gets repeatedly loaded while running. No wonder that they are one of the most injury-prone muscles in your body.
In this article, we will explore:
- Causes of calves hurting after running
- Ways to get rid of sore claves from running
- Guidelines to prevent sore calves.
Why do my calves hurt after running?
Calves hurt after running if:
- Trying to run faster than your forefoot is capable of.
- Using worn-out shoes.
- Calf muscles are weak.
- Poor hip function.
- Improper running technique.
- Trying to transition to forefoot running too quickly.
- Age-related decreased elasticity of Achilles Tendons.
- Not doing a proper warm-up.
- Calf strain or tear.
Trying to run faster than your forefoot is capable of
When you run on your forefoot or use the forefoot strike, you are using the medial head of gastrocnemeus (MGas) more. This helps you to maintain the arch of the foot and the tension in the Achilles tendons.
This helps to improve your efficiency and will help you to propel faster. This MGas also helps you to control both the sagittal plane and the coronal plane motions.
However, if you have weaker MGas, the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles have to bear the additional load. The more is your speed, the more is the load on your Calves and Achilles Tendons.
This is the reason that, if you are a forefoot runner and are increasing your speed without strengthening the MGas, you will end up having a sore or strained calf muscle after running.
Using worn shoes
Your calf muscles have two major muscles. The gastrocnemius and the soleus. When you wear worn-out shoes, it will cause unnecessary loading of your calf muscles.
When you wear worn-out shoes, your overall posture will be compromised. The balance and the running form that you have built up will no longer be there.
Also, the reduction in heel height or the forefoot area of your running shoes will force your Achilles tendons to extend unnecessarily and will put an additional burden on them. This will leave your calf muscles sore after a run and you if left untreated, may develop into a full-blown strain.
Calf muscles are weak
This is self-explanatory. Your calf muscles are weak. This may be due to a number of reasons. You may have a sedentary lifestyle or you may not be in the habit of walking around. Also, you may be just starting to work out.
If any of these are true, you will have weak calf muscles. Now when you start running, with a weak calf muscle, you are pressuring it to perform at a level that it is not used to. This makes them work more than they are used to and you end up with sore calf muscles.
If that is the case, then there is no need to worry. Your calf muscles will adapt in time and this pain will also go away.
You may also include some calf exercises to build up your calf muscles.
Poor Hip Function
The hip movement is one of the key aspects of efficient and injury-free running. If your hips don’t support your propulsion or are weak then the problem will flow down to the knee or the claves.
This problem will be compounded if you have weak glutes and calf muscles. This will add additional load to your already weak calves and they will go on overdrive.
When you are moving through the running gait there are three extensions that are happening concurrently, the hip, the knee, and the ankle.
The hip along with the gluteus maximus along with the hamstring helps the thigh to move backward from the hip. For this action to happen effectively, you need to have a stable pelvic region.
If your pelvic region is not stable, then your can end up feeling the burn in any of the other parts of the kinetic chain, and most often than not, it is the calves.
Improper running technique
If you are not falling down or running yourself to the wall, then the calf muscle pain that you are feeling after running may be due to your improper running form.
Most of the running injuries can be traced back to bad running form. It may be hanging your head while running or cramping up your shoulders.
If the problem is arising in the parts of the upper body in the kinetic chain, the immediate effect will be felt on the hips, which in turn will propagate to the knees, calves, and ankles.
If all the other things seem to be fine and you are still facing a problem with your calves, then observe your running form.
This may be one of the keys for you to stop the calves’ pain and also stop some bigger issues from happening in the future.
Trying to transition to forefoot running too quickly
This is more true for runners who are used to running with their heels or are heel strikers. For them, their forefoot is not equipped to handle their body weight.
For this reason, their Achilles tendons get loaded and it moves up the kinetic chain to the calves. This leaves you having pain in the calves after your running session.
This may also happen to runners who are used to using a running shoe with significant heel-to-toe drop. If they try to move to a low drop or a zero drop shoe from a say 10mm heel-to-toe offset, they will also have to deal with this similar problem.
Their Achilles Tendons will get extended and will remain extended and stretch further to allow you to perform the running movements.
This will put a strain on the calves and you will end up having a sore calf muscle.
In such cases, try to use running shoes with a medium drop. This will act as a transition shoe and you may not have to deal with such pain.
Age-related decreased elasticity of Achilles Tendons
With age, the elasticity of your tendons and the tissues of your body decreases. This gives rise to more injuries for the same kinds of movement that you were used to when you were younger.
This is true even for your Achilles Tendons. They tend to lose their elasticity with age. Achilles’s tendons are directly connected to your calf muscles.
A stiffer Achilles Tendon will put more strain on your calf muscles. This in turn will make your calves sorer.
A way to avoid this may be with exercises that are mainly focused on improving the elasticity of your Achilles’ tendons. One particularly effective exercise will be Eccentric heel drops.
Not doing a proper warm-up
Most of us start to like our warm-ups after we have suffered some kind of injury. Warm-up gets the blood flowing and also removes the stiffness that you have incurred after a good night’s sleep.
If you are resting for a long time an inherent stiffness will build up in your calf muscles and your Achilles’ tendons. If you don’t get the blood flowing before running you will most likely feel the burn after you run.
However, this is completely avoidable, if you get the blood flowing by doing some dynamic warm-up for 5-10 mins. You will yourself feel getting warm and you are good to go.
Calf strain or tear
This is a more obvious thing that may leave you with a painful calf after running. This strain or tear can develop for a number of reasons.
The reasons may be any of the things that we discussed above. It may also happen that you somehow got injured with or without your knowledge.
However, this may be one of the more severe forms of pain that you may experience. Generally, the pain would come down if you take plenty of rest and don’t put much pressure on the leg.
If you follow that you may get healed in a couple of weeks. If you neglect it, then it may turn into a more permanent sort of problem.
How to get rid of sore calves from running?
To get rid of sore calves from running you may use any or more of the below-mentioned solutions:
1. Salt and warm water compression – This is one of the best ways that I’ve found works. It was suggested to my mom by a physiotherapist. The recipe is simple. You just mix a lot of salt like for a bucket of water, use 250 grams salt. You then either soak a towel and wring it and compress your calf muscles with that. Or you can dip your legs into the water and sit for 10 min. Either way, it will provide you with a lot of comforts and should significantly reduce any discomfort in your calves.
2. Epsom salt and warm water – It is the same as the previous one however you will use Epsom salt in place of common salt. Also, you will not use a towel, rather you will dip your feet in the water and wait it out for 10-15 min. You can source this salt from any online store or a cosmetic shop in your vicinity.
3. Foam rolling – This is a very effective way to get rid of sore calves. You just need to roll your calves over a foam roller. This will release any stiffness in the area and will help you to recover from the pain.
4. Message Guns – This is another effective way and is similar to foam rolling. You need to use the message gun on your sore calves to alleviate the pain. The vibrations from the gun will do the trick. It will also work on any other sore areas that are hard to tackle with a foam roller.
5. Ice compress – Ice compress has been a household thing for ages. It will almost immediately reduce any swelling and will help you recover fast. All you need to do is put some ice in a plastic bag and rub it on your claves. If you can tolerate it, you can also hold a cube of ice and rub it n the affected area. However, if you do it for a long time, you may catch a cold. So, at max do it for 10 min.
6. Get plenty of rest – Most of the time, the soreness of calves, comes down after a day provided you are ready to wait it out. Just taking a break for a day will help your calves not only recover but also to become stronger. So, if you don’t want to do additional things as mentioned above, you should take plenty of rest and not put much stress on your legs.
7. Visit a doctor – If your calves are very painful and you cannot endure the pain, it may be that you have suffered some serious injury. If that is the case, visiting a doctor may be the best idea. If you don’t want to visit a doctor immediately, wait for a day. If the pain doesn’t subside or you cannot feel an improvement, just visit a doctor to have an opinion.
Plastaras, C. T., Rittenberg, J. D., Rittenberg, K. E., Press, J., & Akuthota, V. (2005). Comprehensive functional evaluation of the injured runner. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics, 16(3), 623-649.
Blogger and a fitness enthusiast. She loves running and Yoga and everything in between. She started running to manage her weight and to eat to her heart’s content. A true foodie at heart she shares whatever knowledge she has gained throughout the years about weight management and fitness.