Experiencing sore calves after running is common for new and experienced runners alike. The calf pain can range from slightly irritating to debilitating – but regardless of your tolerance, it’s important to understand exactly why your calves are sore and what to change to avoid it.
Find what you need to know about running calf soreness:
- Why are my calves sore after running?
- How do I stop my calves from hurting after I run?
- How to prevent calf soreness after running?
Is it okay to run with sore calves?
If you are experiencing occasional sore calves after running long runs or tough workouts, it’s likely okay to continue. However, if your calf pain has become chronic, isolated, or is prohibiting you from running, taking steps towards recovery is necessary.
Many runners mistakenly assume that tight or sore calves after running is a normal result of exercise. While minor soreness can certainly be expected for new runners or those increasing intensity, chronic calf soreness is a sign that something might be off.
Causes of Calf Pain from Running
The specific cause for calf muscle pain from running usually varies depending on the severity of the pain. Minor soreness might be caused by something as simple as dehydration or lack of warm up, while strains might be caused by poor form or muscle imbalance. Here are the most common causes.
Insufficient warm up.
If you are experiencing minor, yet consistent calf soreness during or after a run, take a look at your warm up. A common cause of minor calf pain is the lack of warm up, or a warm up that is insufficient.
Skipping out on a warm up before your run means that you are getting started when your muscles are cold and tight. This can often lead to calf cramps during a run or a generalized achy feeling in the calves after running.
Another cause of calf pain during and after a run is dehydration. The severity of the pain will vary depending on the extent to which you are dehydrated. Severe dehydration might lead to intense camping or spasms such as Charlie horses, while minor dehydration might result in chronic tightness.
Water plays a key role in helping your body flush out toxins and prevent the build up of lactic acid in the muscles. This is especially important during and after hard workouts, long runs, or as you increase your mileage.
Inadequate hip function.
Weak or inactive muscles can increase the strain on the calf muscles, as they have to overcompensate for the muscles that lie dormant during a run. Poor hip function is a particularly common cause of sore calves after running, as the hips are unable to assist in the running movement, therefore placing excessive stress on the calves.
Muscle imbalances can be particularly challenging to identify, as runners often compensate for the weakness without even realizing it. Chronically sore calves might be a sign that your hips are weak or inactive on the run.
Changes in running form.
Improper running form is another reason your calves might be sore after running. Even the slightest change, such as slouching or overstriding, could place more strain on your calf muscles.
Some runners find that attempting to improve their running form causes their calves to feel sore or tight. An example might be when trying to switch to a mid or forefoot strike in order to avoid shin splints; doing so too quickly might cause your calves to feel unusually tight.
Excessive stress on the calves.
If none of these issues seem to be the cause of your calf soreness, it might be worth assessing your running form and muscular strength on a deeper level.
Muscle imbalances in areas besides the hips might be causing your body to overcompensate by placing more stress on your calves when running. Slight variations in running form such as hunching forward, heel striking or even forefoot striking might be the cause of your calf pain.
While there is no singular cause for running calf soreness, these common issues provide a helpful starting point when hoping to address the root of your pain. Once you’ve discovered the cause of your pain, it’s important to learn how to rid or reduce the soreness while it is occurring.
How to Treat Sore Calves After Running
Calf pain and soreness, whether it’s during or after a run, can feel incredibly discouraging. Aside from the actual discomfort, it can be very frustrating to experience calf pain, time after time, when trying to increase your mileage or speed.
Learning how to treat sore calves after running will help you reduce the pain and prevent it from affecting your training for any length of time. Here are a few simple ways to treat and reduce calf pain after running.
A great way to promote blood flow and encourage the removal toxins is self-massage. Use your thumb and forefinger to gently work your way through the sore calf muscle. If you find any knots or particularly tight spots, spend a little extra time kneading the area. Never massage to the point of pain, though.
The golden rule for injury applies to sore calf muscles as well: RICE. This acronym stands for rest, ice, compress and elevate. If you are dealing with chronic calf pain, take some time off your feet to rest.
Ice the area to help reduce inflammation, and compress (only when comfortable) to promote blood flow for healing. Elevation also helps prevent the blood from pooling in your feet, thus working to reduce inflammation as well.
When stretching your calf muscles, be sure to hold the stretch for an adequate amount of time. Stretching out a muscle has very little benefit if you only stretch for a few seconds a time. Be sure to stretch on both sides, even if only one is sore or tight.
Take time off.
Just as the acronym RICE states, rest is a key element to recovery from any sort of pain. If your calf pain is more than an occasional soreness or tightness, it’s a sign that you need to take some time off.
Rest or cross train until you are able to run again completely pain free. If you return to running and find that the pain quickly comes back, you likely returned before the area was completely healed.
Incorporate ankle rolls.
This simple exercise is a great way to help loosen the calves without having to stretch or massage on your own. Simply roll the ankle on of the tight calf in both directions.
For additional benefit, elevate your foot by propping the ankle on the edge of a surface, such as a bar or stool edge, so the foot is suspended in the air. This allows more range of motion in the foot, promoting more mobility and helping reduce tension.
Add a lacrosse ball.
If stretching and self-massage do not cause any pain, you might benefit from adding a lacrosse ball to your recovery efforts. Place a lacrosse ball on the floor and rest your calf on top of it. Simply roll up and down to help loosen things up, applying as much pressure as is comfortable.
Another method that is particularly helpful for reducing tightness in a single area is to place a lacrosse ball on top of your calf when kneeling. Sit down on top of your heels so the ball is wedged between your calf and hamstring, receiving pressure from your own bodyweight.
While these methods are helpful for those currently suffering with sore calves from running, the goal is to avoid it entirely. In order to do so, runners need to focus on preventing the tightness from occurring in the first place.
How to Prevent Pain in Calves from Running
Incorporating some of these activities into your regular running routine will not only help ease lingering calf soreness, but it will help prevent it from occurring again in the future.
Double leg hops.
This simple exercise helps promote proper foot strike and landing during a run to avoid sore calves afterwards. Simply incorporate a few hops in your regular warm up, cool down, or strength training routine each week.
Single leg squats.
Not only do single leg squats encourage balance, but they help strengthen muscles around the knees, shins and ankles to protect the calves and help them stay strong to bear the load while running. Add a few single leg squats to your weekly strength training workout.
A great way to strengthen your calves is the obvious: calf raises. Spending a few minutes each week focusing on improving your calf strength will help prepare them to bear the load on the run. You can increase the effectiveness of this exercise by standing on the edge of a stair or step, so your heels are elevated and range of motion is increased.
Bosu ball squat.
This variation of a classic squat is a great way to bring the focus to the ankles, knees and calves, improve balance and promote equal strength on both sides of the body. Stand on the round side of a Bosu ball, or flip to the flat side if you’re advanced, and complete a regular squat while maintaining balance.
The calf muscle runs all the way down to your ankle, connecting to your Achilles. Regardless of whether your calf soreness is near the top of your calf muscle or bottom, spending a few minutes stretching your Achilles region in your post-run cooldown is a great way to prevent tightness throughout the muscle.
If you have chronic calf soreness from running, spending time stretching your calves is essential for reducing tightness. Be careful not to rush the stretch on each side, and try to stretch this area on a regular basis.
Get fitted for running shoes.
A great deal of the calf soreness and tightness that runners experience is due to improper shoes with too much or too little support. Even slight variations in shoes can lead to lasting differences in foot strike, stride and overall form.
Warm up beforehand.
Make a point to include a dynamic warm up in your running routine. Spending even just 5 minutes loosening your muscles will help avoid heading out for a run when your muscles are cold.
Many of these calf pain treatment and prevention strategies take just a few minutes to complete – but when completed on a regular basis, they really make a difference.
Try starting with just a couple of strategies and gradually adding more to your running routine. If you are able to target the cause of your calf soreness, you’ll be able to pick the right treatment methods and quickly adjust to avoid future pain.
Running is challenging, but shouldn’t be painful. Take the time now to help relieve your calf soreness and before you know it, it’ll be a thing of the past.