You can’t run without your calf muscles. In fact, the three most important muscle groups in terms of propulsion for runners, are the hamstrings, glutes, and calves. In this article, you’ll find out how calf strain happens, how to treat calf strain, and some good preventive measures you can take to avoid this common running injury.
How Calf Strain Injuries Occur
Calf strains usually happen quickly. They often happen during speed sessions, hill workouts, or sprints. Fatigue is a factor in most calf strains, and age seems to play a big part as well. In fact, men over 40 have the greatest risk of calf injury.
Just recently, I suffered a calf strain at the end of a long threshold training workout. I was on the last 2-mile interval and I had already run 11 miles that day when it occurred. It felt like and deep ache for several strides and then quickly turned into a tight, burning, sensation at the base of my inner calf. I was forced to walk back home from that point on.
The calf consists of two muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the meatier upper part of the calf, and the soleus is the slender lower part of the muscle. Injuries most often occur in the upper part of the calf, but both are susceptible.
In my case, five factors contributed to my calf strain: increased weekly mileage, muscle tightness, workout fatigue, speed intervals, and new running shoes with zero drop heels. These five factors combined were too much for my soleus. Looking back, it seems like it should have been obvious I was heading for trouble. But, of course that’s how it is with most running injuries.
Treating Calf Strain Injuries
The best course of action immediately following a calf strain injury is to ice the injured area. If swelling occurs, an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen can help. Remember to follow the directions on the bottle. Gentle massage may also help the muscle recover and ease discomfort, depending upon the severity of injury.
Most doctors would recommend taking some time off from running until everything returns to normal. If you’re smart, you’ll do that. But, of course, you’re a runner so you probably won’t. If you must run, try tightly wrapping the are of the injury with an Ace bandage. Be careful not to cut off circulation in your lower leg. You can wear the bandage all day and during your runs. Use good judgement. If it hurts, stop running.
How to Prevent Calf Strains
You’ve heard this before. Regular stretching is the best way to reduce risk of muscular injury. The more pliable the muscle becomes, the less susceptible it will be to injury. If you haven’t already discovered the Pro Stretch, you may want to check it out. I purchased one last year after wrestling with plantar fasciitis. The Pro Stretch device provides a simple way to get a really good calf stretch.
You can also strengthen your calves by doing heel dips. However, walking on your toes both forwards and backwards for 15-30 seconds at a time without touching your heels, will give your calves a great workout that more closely mimics the real injury circumstances. Wait until you’ve fully recovered before starting a preventative strength routine.
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