Calf Pain Exercises for Runners [Ep50]

If your calf muscles cause you pain after
running, stick around as I’m going to show you some solutions to get you running again
pain free. Running is tough on the legs, that’s for
sure. It’s a high impact, repetitive action that places a lot of demands on different
parts of the body. Along with areas like the knees, your calf
muscles are another focal point for this strain during running! Unfortunately that also means that the calf
complex is often an area that frequently gets injured amongst us runners. If you’re currently nursing a calf injury,
stick around to the end of the video as I’ll be demonstrating a number of exercises you
can use straight away to help your calf muscles recover and get stronger, allowing you to
better meet the demands of running. So, very quickly, there are a few things we
need to appreciate when it comes to those calf muscles. Generally speaking, we refer to the muscles
at the back of the lower leg as the calf, but there are a few different muscles back
there. The two I want to think about specifically
in this video are gastrocnemius (gastroc), the big meaty, more defined muscle we all
think of as the calf, and soleus, a muscle that sits a little deeper and below gastroc. Both of these guys attach to the achilles
tendon, which then attaches to the heel bone, the calcaneus. We talk about these muscle as being plantar
flexors of the ankle, creating the movement of pointing your foot downwards. But it’s important to realise that they
work together to control dorsiflexion as we weight-bear over the top of the foot when
walking and running. Also, gastroc has an important role in passively
transferring force from the powerful hip muscles, like the glutes and hamstrings, down into
the ground to push us forwards. This propulsion is as an important part of your running stride. There are a number of different risk factors
when it comes to calf injuries in runners. Topping the long list has to be the ‘too
much too soon’ factor. This isn’t just relevant to newer runners, who do often suffer
with calf problems as their bodies adapt to the new demands that running imposes, but
also to experienced runners who try to increase the milage too quickly, or add speed work
into their programme too quickly. Biomechanics also have an important role to
play as causative factors for calf injuries. I’ve written an article on one of the most
common hip-related biomechanical issues I see in runners, which leads to calf and lower
injuries. I’ll leave a link to that article in the
description here on YouTube. On a similar note, one of the most common
self imposed causes of calf pain I see in runners, is when previously heel striking
runners attempt to adopt a forefoot strike pattern and end up running too far forwards
on their toes. This, combined with too much running volume with this new form is a recipe
for calf-related disaster. For most distance runners, a mid-foot strike
is as far forward on the foot you’ll need to come. You certainly want to avoid aggressively
forefoot striking like a sprinter. When it comes to your calf pain, it’s important
to realise that there are a number of different grades of muscle strain, classified on a scale
graded from one to three. A grade one calf strain will feel a little
painful but more significantly tight. You’ll feel discomfort on walking, running and certainly
stretching the muscle. More significant is a grade two strain, which
is essentially a partial tear of the muscle tissue. This will result in localised pain
both during activity and when touched firmly. Worse still is a grade three tear, which is
a total rupture of the involved muscle tissue. This is a serious injury, where weight-bearing
will be extremely painful, let alone walking or running. Of course, the only sensible course of action
if you’re experiencing calf pain after running is to get it properly assessed by a physio,
so you know exactly how serious your injury is, and which factors potentially caused your
specific problem. Knowing this will help to guide your rehab
plan. As with most soft tissue injuries, the initial
acute phase of injury requires you to protect the injury, rest the area, and use ice, compression
and elevation to help manage any pain and swelling. Don’t forget that the inflammatory stage
is an important part of the healing process. You can speak to your physio or doctor about
using any anti-inflammatory or pain meds. If you’ve had a more serious calf injury,
you’ll know how it affects your walking gait. As the pain subsides over the initial
week, it’s important to reestablish your normal walking pattern, as any limp you may
pick-up as a result of the calf pain will potentially have negative consequences for
your hips and back. The last thing you want to pick-up is a secondary
low back injury as a consequence of your calf problem. Believe it or not, it happens. At this point, non-weight bearing exercises
such as glute bridges and hip mobility exercises are worth focusing on. Your calf may be injured,
but there’s 95% of the rest of your body you can work on, as long as you’re careful. When you get to the point where you can balance
on the injured leg pain free, you can begin working on proprioceptive exercises, to gently
start to challenge the muscles of the lower leg, foot and ankle again. Stretching is something I’m often asked
about. It’s important to keep the area mobile, so exercises like writing the alphabet with
your foot are really important. But be careful when it comes to more aggressive calf stretches,
like the classic calf stretch against the wall. Being too vigorous with this type of
exercise, too soon can potentially set the injury back a few days. Even once the pain has begun to significantly
subside, it would be worth getting some gentle soft tissue work done on the area, rather
than aggressively stretching yourself. Also speak to your physio about when they feel
you’ll be ready to re-introduce your calf muscles to the foam roller! The next stage is to begin progressively loading
the injured tissue, building the resilience back up to eventually be able to tolerate
a return to running. Everybody’s timescales will be different
here, so be sure to take the advice of your physio. Differing varieties of heel drop exercises
provide a simple but effective progression to build your calf muscles back up to running. You can initially work on isometric ‘heel
drops’ off a step. These are similar to your more typical heel drops working through
range up and down, but without the movement. Stand with the balls of your feet on the edge
of a step, hanging your heels backwards off the step, keeping your foot on the level of
the step. Initially with both feet at once, hold yourself
in this position for 20-40 seconds, then rest. Repeat this 5-6 times. Do this initially with
straight knees, to bias the gastrocnemius muscle, then do the same with bent knees to
bias the soleus muscle. You can then progress this to preform exactly
the same exercise one leg at a time. As a progression, you should add plantarflexion
and dorsiflexion at the ankle. Initially working both legs together, begin with the balls of
your feet on the edge of the step and push yourself up onto your tip-toes. From there slowly, with control, allow yourself
to lower your heels down as low as they will comfortably go. This should be well below
the level of the step. Aim to come up on the count of 1 and then down again on the count
of 3. Once you can do three sets of twenty pain-free,
both straight leg (gastroc biased) variety, and bent kneed (soleus biased), you can progress
to working one leg at a time. When performing single leg calf raises, you
should maintain the same 1-up, 3-down tempo, but initially use two legs to push up, and
one leg to control down. The last progression here is to work up and
down just on one leg throughout. As with all injuries we rehab, there are almost
limitless options available in terms of exercises you could legitimately use, depending on the
individual case. Other exercises you may wall want to consider
include single leg squat variations to improve single leg stability, and the balance-reach
drill to specifically develop soleus – often weakness in soleus can result in calf injury. As you progress towards your return to running,
simple jumping, skipping and hopping exercises provide a good means of further strengthening
the lower legs in general, preparing them for the demands of running. I’ll leave a link in the description here
on YouTube to a return to running programme I often get runners to follow, to help ensure
a successful return first time. I do hope you’ve found this short guide
helpful in dealing with your calf injury. Let me know in the comments if you’ve got
any questions. Speak to you soon. Good luck!

Daniel Yohans

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