Q+A: Calf strains: Why they occur and how to treat

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 13 February 2006
by Judith Pitt-Brooke

Q I’m 44 years old and have been running for 20 years. I stretch my calves and hamstrings before I run but have recently suffered a calf strain after a few miles. How can I avoid this and how should these injuries be treated when they occur?

A From our 30s both the muscle tissue and tendon part of the calf muscle are subject to age-related changes. The changes in the connective tissue, which is the non-contracting part of the muscle, probably cause most of the problems.

Your injury suggests you are probably sustaining small muscle fibre stretch injuries. It is quite likely there is no actual tearing going on but the overstretching or overloading to groups of muscle fibres is enough to cause discomfort. Age-related change makes us more susceptible to these and some people are more susceptible than others. Try applying ice over the painful area for 20 minutes after the strain occurs.

The jury is still out as to whether it is helpful to stretch before you run. In your case, it doesn’t appear to be helping. Try power walking for five minutes at the beginning and the end of your run instead. Adopt a good heel to toe movement, rolling off the toes properly with each long stride, and use your arms to gain momentum and retain balance.

Power walking will enable blood flow to the muscle tendon to increase more steadily than if you were to go straight into a run. It also stretches the calf-muscle tendon dynamically over a greater range than running would, which helps the connective tissue in the muscle to loosen up effectively. Try this in preference to static stretching.

There are a few other factors that might contribute to this injury. Have you changed your running shoes recently? Are you properly hydrated before and after you run? Running dehydrated will make you more prone to muscle injury. Consuming low-GI carbohydrates soon after exercise will help recovery – foods such as fruit, oats, rye bread and some nuts fall into this category.

Judith Pitt-Brooke, East Midlands Physiotherapy Clinic, Loughborough

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Any quick fixes for a calf strain, went for a run this morning, slipped a little on ice, carried on for a few strides then twang my calf had gone, stopped me dead in my tracts. Iced it as soon as i arrived home and have taken a couple of ibupofen
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 15:12

I think this should be on the injury forum but fwiw RICE is the general answer for this. Don't run again until fully recovered.

Don't go for a quick fix as it won't prove to be quick at all...
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 16:03

Ouch! It was really icey where I am this morning too, so I went off road for my run. Unfortunately sprained my ankle, not on a skitey bit either, just uneven ground.

Anyway there's no quick fix for pulled calf. Rest, ice, elevate as ratbag says. Depending on grade of tear, it's 3-6 weeks out. See a sports physio if you can afford it before xmas (!)

48 post injury do contrast bathing - ice followed by hot water bottle in a cycle of 3 times, twice daily.
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 16:10

Thanks Ratbag and Siance, to be honest i should know by now there's no quick fix, it's just such a pain that i have two weeks off from work and won't be able to run.Hope your ankle is'nt too slow to heal siance. MERRY CHRISTMAS ALL
Posted: 21/12/2006 at 20:57

Ran the Great North Run and everything was going great until about 5 mile when I felt a pain in my right calf. It got steadily worse until i had to eventually stop. I ran/walked the rest of it. My calf is painful when I stretch it or touch it. Can anyone help?
Posted: 06/10/2008 at 10:50

take some anti inflamatorys and ice it
Posted: 06/10/2008 at 11:46

thanx pizza man
Posted: 06/10/2008 at 13:02

Suffering myself, think I went back to training too fast after Snowdon Marathon, Injury though seems to have resulted after a cross country race 2 weeks ago in new shoes, the strain was slight and I went back to training after a week, and it went again, think I will take the advice now and stop before I do any more damage. Is it ok to cycle with mild calf strain once the initial pain has gone?
Posted: 22/11/2008 at 09:26

Hi, I'm wondering if anyone can help me? I saw my doctor a few days ago who confirmed I have calf strain and advised me to rest. Since then though I have been experiencing a tight, achey feeling in the outide front of my leg which comes in waves, is this related to the calf injury and is it normal? I'm getting so frustrated now, it's been over a month since I got the injury and I feel as though it will never heal!
Posted: 09/05/2010 at 21:02

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