Q+A: I've had calf pain for a fortnight. Why?

Our experts answer real-life questions


Posted: 9 September 2000
by Andrew Caldwell

Q I’ve been suffering from pain in my right calf for a couple of weeks. I rest for a few days and then run, but I can’t seem to shake it off. How long should I rest for, and are there any exercises I can do to speed recovery?

A With any injury to any part of the body you have to be aware of how the body heals itself. If you attempt to resume training too soon, the result is usually early breakdown and recurrence of the problem. At first, try some simple home treatment. Usually this consists of icing in the first five days to reduce tissue metabolism and promote blood flow to the healing tissue. You should supplement this with a gentle range of movement exercises until the tissue is strong enough – sometimes as early as day five – to be warmed and then stretched gently.

Don’t rush back into running, though. Think of the rehabilitation as rungs on a ladder. You are not allowed to step up onto the next rung until you are symptom-free. This is where the skills of an experienced chartered physiotherapist are essential in order to accelerate your return to running and provide guidance for the next ‘level’ of exercises. When your calf strength has returned to an acceptable level, they may recommend some plyometric training. This type of training – which includes strides, bounding and jumping – suits the calf muscles, as they are responsible for power development. We find that this type of training restores the physiological function of the calf musculature most effectively.

When you and your physio are happy, you’ll be able to embark on a gradual return to running. An approximate timescale for full recovery from this type of injury could be anything from four to six weeks. It might seem a lengthy process, but a little time spent now, getting your rehab right, might prevent the injury occurring again in the future.

Andrew Caldwell, chartered physiotherapist at East Midlands Phyisotherapy and Sports Injury Clinic, Loughborough


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I'm a relatively new runner, doing about 5k 3 times a week. After my midweek run I felt a tightness in my right calf - felt like it was about to cramp all the time - this continued until today when I ran again - a brilliant run in pouring rain - but now my calf is really quite painful when I walk or stretch - but OK when not moving about.

I simply don't know if this is just a twinge, a bit of stiffness, or an injury looming.

How do I tell the difference?

Any advice appreciated. Thanks!!
Posted: 24/08/2002 at 21:54

If it's quite painful when you walk, I would be tempted to seek medical advice, or at the least get a sports massage.

But you could try resting for a few days and then see how it feels when you run. Are you doing enough calf stretches? Try the ones where you hang off the edge of a step on the ball of your foot and let your leg stretch down. I find this is more effective than regular calf stretches.

But if it's too sore to do this, you may need to get it looked at.

Hope this helps.

Posted: 26/08/2002 at 15:11

I agree with Parsley, see your GP. He/she will only tell you to rest, but might be able to tell you what you've done. Once you know what the problem is you'll know weather to to see a physio or read up on the injury & trat it yourself.
Be careful with the above stretch of Parsleys if you have done some damage this is a powerful stretch & needs building up to.
good luck
PM
Posted: 26/08/2002 at 16:04

At 40 something I`m constantly straining calves - various areas, any suggestions?
Posted: 29/08/2002 at 19:26

I think I was panicking too early - I'd just never had continuous near-cramping for a long time before. However, now is all OK again. I will make sure I take the advice on stretching!

Posted: 29/08/2002 at 21:09

Straining? or tearing?
Are you over training? do you give yourself enough rest between hard sessions, do you wear the right trainers? do you over/under stretch, do you stretch cold muscles. There could be many reasons. Try resting for 10 days and then building up slowly, also if you can, have a warm bath before any hard sessions as this will relax the muscles.
I hope this helps. I have problems with both calves and am always trying to find out why & trying to prevent the next "calf attack".
all the best
PM
Posted: 29/08/2002 at 21:10

Ran two weeks ago felt cramp like pain in calf, rested and saw physio told it was a Strain. Had massage and stretches, ran yesterday same pain reappeared after 9 mins of run. Walked home. Can anyone offer advise.
Posted: 09/07/2003 at 11:27

Try DVT socks. They help circulation. Paula Radcliffe wears similar ones!
Also, quinine tablets are apparently good for relieving (night) cramps. I've tried them before long runs, and the combination (socks and tablet) seems to help.
Posted: 09/07/2003 at 12:42

I recently ran my first marathon, and was quite dissapointed with my time. I experienced very painfull cramps in my calfs from around mile 22 which forced me to keep stopping. Why do you get cramps and how can you prevent them? Any help would be really appreciated
Posted: 09/07/2003 at 13:16

Peter, are you sure that they are cramps and not strains/tears?
Posted: 09/07/2003 at 13:38

Well I'm not sure no, but it felt like cramp. I would feels a twinge on one pace then a sudden sharp pain, and i couldnt run through it. After the race it didnt feel to bad and the next day it wasnt painfull so I assume it was cramps. Any idea why I was getting them?
Posted: 09/07/2003 at 13:43

I have been going without shoes in the fine weather and this has caused my achilles to stretch and is causing tightness in calfs, 7 days rest and massage each night looks to have cured it, will tell you more after my 10K on Sunday.
Posted: 09/07/2003 at 21:53

I had the same problem tonight. Went out with daughter for a run but kept having to walk as calfs kept cramping. Was quite painful at times.
I don't have a bad diet and take plenty of water before running. I also do body pump once a week and we do lots of squats and lunges so don't know if this is the cause. I thought working with weights etc would be more beneficial to running, building up muscles etc..
Posted: 10/07/2003 at 22:30

I've been having some pain at the top of my calf and in my knee while running. Feels like it could be a tendon problem.
I also play cricket which puts quite a bit of stress on my knee.
Can anyone offer any advice?
Posted: 15/07/2003 at 01:02

I find that when i run at a pace that is relatively comfortable I am OK. But as soon as i push it one or both of my calves seize up and i feel as if my leg bones have turned into brittle twigs. If i ignore it things just get worse but resting only helps until i try to run fast again and by that time i have lost all the hard work i put in. I feel so helpless when it comes to speed work.
Any advice?
Posted: 15/07/2003 at 23:44


T2
Colin sounds like you have shin splints! V painful and the only advice is rest and if it feels ok run. Shin splints usually go on there own. Might be worth seeing your GP though. I tore a calf muscle a few months ago and it was the most painful thing I have ever had to endure when it happened i could not walk. I was on crutches for four weeks and off work for seven! Stretching is now the main focus before and after any excersise.Even walking. Calf excersise on a regular basis can help prevent cramps also.
Posted: 16/07/2003 at 17:10

Hi all

I was wondering if any one could offer advice fo rme. I have just started training in the last 3/4months and have had loads of pain in my shins. Thanks to better shoes and warming up prop[erely that has pretty much faded. But I have very bad pain in my lower leg in the front to the right of and behind my shins. It feels like there a particular muscle there that is very tight and has sharp shooting pain when I run. This may be to over exertion but even when I rest a few days its stil there. Also my entire leg muscles but mainly lower leg feel as if they have all shortened dramatically and I sometimes find it very difficult to break into a smooth easy run if at all. I cant seem to shake the tightness and even attempt to walk for 10 minutes to warm my legs up before jogging (which I do mainly in the morning) Can anyone offer soem advice please and also some good calf stretches for the front muscles in my legs. Thank you.
Posted: 17/07/2003 at 09:15

The pain in the shins sounds like shin splints, there are a number of causes and cures for this, try doing a search on 'shin splints' on this forum, there has been chapter and verse posted on this subject.

good luck
Posted: 17/07/2003 at 14:17

Hi everyone, I've only started running in the last few months & recently had some pain in my calf & just on the right at the top of my shin - almost like it's underneath the shin. Went for a run & had really stiff legs then had tightness for next few days. Then did a 10k I'd registered for ages ago on the Sun (this was about 2 wks ago) & although felt fine while running the next day my leg was so stiff & painful i was walking with a limp. Keep getting cramps in my calf too! Better now but still tender & a slight limp when stiff. Been getting a few massages & been told by the guy at the gym to stay off impact sports at mo. He thinks it could be that I have over trained - my muscle has got bigger but the sheath around it has not torn to allow it to grow properly??? Any thoughts? Thanks loads
Posted: 05/08/2003 at 12:17

Hi folks i'm new to this running, been at it for 6 weeks and i've got the bug. I've suffered for the last 2 years with repetitive calf problems and i've just done it again after tonight’s run. My problem is caused by my back going into spasms, and this makes my calf feel like i've strained it or pulled it and can be quite painful, even to walk on and touch.
I'll be making an appointment to see the physio that i've come to trust, he will hopefully just click my back into place give me some exercise to strengthen my back and hopefully be back running in a couple of weeks. If you have strains or pulls you should see some bruising around the area of stiffness and soreness. Also make sure your footware is giving you the correct posture as this can contribute to back problems big time. Hope this helps or open to other peoples suggestions.

Posted: 01/09/2003 at 18:27

Go buy some heat pads - Flector and also Capsicole. Wear the Flector for 2 1/2 days - you may have to change it if you shower etc. Then take half a days rest and wear the Capsicole - this got rid of my calve tightness
Posted: 28/10/2003 at 15:30

It can also be caused by diet - food allergies can contribute to excess fungus in the bloodstream which can cause, amongst other things, joint and muscle pain. An excessively acidic diet (from starchy pasta, bread, pasrty, grains, flour-based products, cereals, coffee, alcohol, sugar, wheat, etc) also leads to an imbalance in the system which causes arthritis and degenerative diseases. Many of us are allergic to various foods we have been eating all our lives and don't even realize.
I've been eating loads of white bread, crisps, cheese, meat and (frozen overcooked!) vegetables whilst skiing for the past 3 weeks in Germany. Now back in training, my legs are killing and my bowels.....!! Never a problem before.
A book by Dr Shyam Singha 'The secrets of natural health' gives dietary advice for various ailments and is one of the best i've read. As is anything by Jason Vale.
As I wrote on the beginners thread, fresh raw juices and a 70% raw food diet are the best things you can give your body to maintain a balanced system, cleanse and nutrify. Your energy levels are phenomenal. Really noticed a huge difference whilst away and not able to eat so well.
Posted: 11/01/2004 at 16:15

the food and acid base shift theory for fungus in joints and i suspect you mean gout as the arthropathy?

There is no evidence for any of this, is there?
Posted: 12/01/2004 at 09:27

sweaty betty,

please forgive my skepticism, but there appears to be nothing in the medical literature linking fungus in the blood and food allergy (or indeed any allergy). and i can't find accounts of any controlled studies on acidic diets either, other than those investigating the effects on teeth, and one studying cow urine acidity (honestly). out of interest, which peer reviewed journals were these studies published in?

(also, wouldn't a diet rich in raw juices be fairly acidic?)
Posted: 14/01/2004 at 15:16

Rats - just come across this thread - think |'ve done the same thing but 10 days rest - help! I'll be back done to snail pace miles - it takes me ages to build back jp again
Posted: 16/01/2004 at 18:46

Hi
I recently resumed running after a very long lay off. All was well for a couple of weeks and I was really enjoying it, running 20 -30 mins, 4 – 5 times a week. This was of course, too much too soon and I started to get cramp- like pains in my left calf. Foolishly I persisted until it was really painful before eventually resting it for a week, applying ice etc. All was now fine with my left leg but almost immediately I started getting the same pains in my right leg. Went for a couple of short easy runs but right calf now extremely painful so back to the rest and icing. A week later it still feels tight and painful if I try to run. I always stretch my calves before a run. I’ve had plenty of minor injuries in the past but never one that swapped legs! Any advice about what caused this or better still what to do about it would be much appreciated.
Thanks
Posted: 19/10/2004 at 17:38

Hello, during my normal run of 10miles, at approx. 4miles Ifelt something like a sharp knife point prick the middle of my right calf. I carried on for about 100m, then BANG, the calf muscle went into total spasm. I was not even able to walk on it,the pain was incredible. Got home after a dear old lady took sympathy on me and gave me a lift home (what a good samaritan). The calf is very tender, slightly swollen, only able to walk on my toes, not able to put my heel on the ground. tREATING INJURY WITH rice,ANY ADVICE WOULD BE MORE THAN WELCOME.
Posted: 14/04/2005 at 08:14

my girl freind has just started running and she stops after 5mins because of cramps in her calf then a knumb foot.any 1 tell me the problem and how to solve it?

Posted: 03/01/2006 at 12:29

Does anyone think that wearing sandles with no backs could cause cramping in the calf.
It's something to consider.
My shoes are good and only relax in said sandles.thanks
Posted: 30/07/2006 at 13:23

I went for a short run two nights ago and got sudden pain in the left calf approximately half way round and had to hobble the rest of the way home. Tried a tubi-grip bandage for a day and can now walk on it without pain but when I tried to run on it again - the pain re-started. How long should I rest it before starting to run again - any help would be appreciated.....Thanks.


Posted: 01/08/2006 at 23:23

i too had similar to you back in april and i rested for a few days and then ran again with just a niggle, wasn't too bad so just kept training. i ended up with a 60% rupture and have only just now got back to running properly.it took me 7 weeks of not running before i could run for 5 mins.i would rest it until you have no pain at all then just try a few mins at a time and build back up.better to be safe than sorry.
Posted: 02/08/2006 at 06:48

has anyone tried taking arnica either systemically or topically applied cream for calf strains?

like the comeback kid in 2004, I am experiencing alternate calf strains trying to get started back running, and feeling sorry for myself!
Posted: 05/09/2006 at 14:36

I got hit with something similar today. Half a mile in, I felt a slight pain in the upper outside of my right calf. Thought it was stiffness and continued, but it just got worse. Now I'm very sore and worried about what a lengthy rest will do to my fitness.

I don't want to make this post too long - more detail on my blog.
Posted: 13/07/2007 at 20:01

I am 53, have been running for 30 years, and the only injuries I seem to get are calf muscle ones (both legs).  Just had to miss 10 days training, and with the Robin Hood Marathon in 11 days I am worried about going on long runs in case the injury comes back.  I would appreciate any advice on excercises to strengthen calf muscles.
Posted: 05/09/2007 at 23:33


MC7


I suffered a sharp calf strain at the end of the City of Manc 10K which was painful to run  on, but fine on the bike, and it lingered for a few weeks. I had a couple of visits to the physio who successfully loosened it. I've built up my running again (not excessively) over the past month, with a combination of biking and running at different intensities and weekly gym circuits. All had been good and my fitness has improved.

Strangely, sat in the office(!) yesterday, my calf started getting tight with a sore point close to where the previous injury was, so I'm going to the physio again next week.

I suspect that damaged/scarred ankle ligaments are causing some sort of imbalance in my running, which probably doesn't help either. 

 *My question is, will I continue to suffer with the same calf problem periodically(adding to list of injuries....)?   -How will I know when it's going to occur?*


Posted: 06/09/2007 at 09:01

Hi everyone, interesting on the subject of calf problems, so here mine. I've been running a few years now, and currently training for my first marathon every thing is going fine. My calf's get cramp and not too bad, feels like a restlessness,perhaps the need for another run...anyone else get these feelings? 
Posted: 06/09/2007 at 21:17

Elitemagpie: heel drops over the edge of a step seems to be working for me. Stretches and stregthens the calfs.Fatbutfit: I know it's a few years back now but I quote you "Wear the Flector for 2 1/2 days - you may have to change it if you shower....."Only on a pommie site would you find a line like this Bath night was Sunday when I used to live there hee hee. 
Posted: 06/09/2007 at 21:48

I'm recovering from a calf tear, my physio recommends building up to the heel drop off a step, drop the heel then lift onto the balls of the feet and when you can do that do it on one leg and when you can do that with no problems add a back pack with tins of beans in!  This is several + weeks into rehab so do start much more gently.   I've learnt a lot from using a physio, loads of different ways to stretch and strengthen, well worth the money.
Posted: 18/09/2007 at 22:23


MC7
Strangely, although there's no pain, I know keep getting a slight spasm/tightness in my calf.... The physio found no knots in the muscle last week. What could it be?
Posted: 19/09/2007 at 21:19

At 22 miles in i wouldn't worry about getting cramps. The thing i would look at is how your refulling during your run. water normally isnt enough for me in particular long runs. you might want an energy bar, or gel to give yourself small boosts. if your doing long training runs, play around with what you eat the night before, when your doing your carb loading. then i write done how my body feels during my run, and in particular when my body hits 'the wall'. its not a perfect science, as everyone reacts differently to different stresses.
Posted: 02/04/2011 at 18:43

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