You are running along at a pretty good clip just doing your thing and it hits: pain. No runner wants to get sidelined with an injury. Depending on where your pain lies, sometimes you can run through it and other times you cannot. Calf pain from running is one of those things that can stop a runner in their tracks. What does calf pain mean? How can you prevent it? Can you run through it? Excellent questions. We have answers!
When you get calf pain while running, you want to ask yourself first if it is a calf strain, cramp or contusion. What is the difference?
A muscle cramp is a painful episode that is an involuntary spasm of that muscle. The firing of neurons can cause a twitch like cramp that can even be visible to the eye! Although there are a few possible causes of calf pain, the most common is dehydration. An imbalance of minerals in the body can cause these terrible cramps.
Calf cramps often occur during the night when you are trying to rest. Of course, staying adequately hydrated is one solution. Another is taking a sodium supplement made especially for athletes.
How do you treat a calf cramp? You can stretch it out really well, which will often help immediately. Replenishment of your electrolytes immediately after exercise is another preventative thing you can do. In addition, stay properly hydrated at all times.
A calf strain is when you experience tears in the muscle. A partial tear can often be fixed through physical therapy. A significant tear, however, often needs surgical repair.
Athletes experiencing strain will experience immediate and sharp pain. There is often a loss of strength in the strained muscle, also.
How can you treat a calf strain? RICE (Rest, ice, compression and elevation) is a very typical treatment for mild strains. Prevention of strains can be done through proper warm-up and cool down before and after exercise.
A contusion means your calf has been hit or impacted in some way. Something coming into contact with your calf causing bruising, internal bleeding and a sore spot is a contusion. You can use RICE with a contusion also.
You can also experience calf tightness as a natural reaction to hard workouts. This is not to be confused with injury but also should not be ignored. When your body is changing it is trying to tell you something. Calf tightness while running could be telling you that you have not warmed up properly.
You should always warm-up properly before running hard or fast. In addition, you should never rush your warm-up and dynamic stretching. When we get sloppy is when injuries can occur.
Even though stretching is important, don’t ever stretch to the point of pain. Remember to stop the stretch before it hurts. The idea of “no pain, no gain” is an antiquated philosophy.
There are injuries such as Achilles tendonitis that can radiate into the calf, causing soreness there. Sometimes you need to figure out where the most offending part of a discomfort is to pinpoint where the injury actually stems from. It is not always an easy task to determine.
Can I Run With a Slight Calf Strain?
If the calf strain truly is slight, you may be able to run through the discomfort. However, you need to be smart about it. First, don’t do speed work when experiencing pain you suspect is a strained muscle. Second, consider lowering your mileage. If you can run without actual pain, keep it “low and slow” for a while.
If it hurts too much to run, you have your answer. Don’t run.
Is It Okay To Run With Sore Calves?
If you have sore calves from running, you have to ask yourself some questions. Have you done anything new lately? If you have been doing calf raises in the weight room or recently jumped on a stepper, that could explain the soreness.
Remember that some soreness is a good sign of a hard workout. You need to be able to parcel out discomfort that is normal from a workout from pain that is a warning you need to heed.
How Do I Stop My Calves From Hurting When I Run?
There are some exercises you can do to alleviate calf discomfort.
✓ Single Leg Squats: Balancing on one leg, work your way down into a mini bodyweight squat. Hold for a moment then work your way back to standing. Repeat.
✓ Calf Raises: Stand with feet slightly apart. Raise your calves up so you are on your toes/forefoot. Hold for a moment, then drop back down to flat-footed position. Repeat.
✓ Downward Facing Dog involves excellent calf stretching.
✓ Heel Drop Stretch: Standing on a stair, position yourself so just the forefoot is at the end of the stair. Holding lightly to the wall or railing, drop your heel down then back up.
✓ Wall Calf Stretch: Stand near the wall. Position one forefoot on the wall with your heel on the ground. Press gently forward so the forefoot is experiencing pressure on the wall and your calf feels stretched. Release.
✓ Banded Calf Stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Use a band or towel looped under the foot to gently stretch your foot toward you. Hold lightly, then release.
Foam rolling the calves is one thing you can do when they feel sore. Many people find that it helps them to prevent soreness. Since foam rollers come in varying degrees of firmness, you need to experiment to find the one that best suits your needs.
A marshmallow stick can also be used for calf pain from running. That soreness sometimes can be worked out of it. Just a side note, if you don’t know what this is, it’s not really marshmallows! It is a stick with rotating bead type “marshmallows” on it. The beads roll across the muscle you are using them on. It feels awesome and is a great recovery tool!
So Can I Run?
The long and short of it is that if you have calf pain from running, you can certainly run. Pain is another matter entirely. If it hurts, your body is trying to get you to realize something. However, sometimes just taking it easy is enough and you aren’t completely sidelined. Just don’t ignore the hints your body is sending you.
If you don’t listen to your body’s whispers sometimes it starts yelling and no-one wants that!