If you have just started adapting your form so you run with more of a midfoot/forefoot stride, you may find that your calf muscle are aching more than usual. It is common to have calf muscle pain as a runner, especially if you are running more mileage than normal and/or changing up to a more proper form.
The information below will help you to understand a little more on why the calf muscle pain occurs and what you can do to help prevent any pain or injury.
The Calf Muscle
We all know that the calf muscle is that big muscle behind your lower leg, but what does the muscle actually do?
First, did you know that your calf muscle is actually two separate muscles – the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the large muscle that see, while the soleus is located a little bit deeper. Both muscles have similar roles, which is pushing your toes downwards and keeping you up while you stand, walk, jog, and run. Both calf muscles are attached to the heel through the Achilles tendon.
One difference between to two muscles is that the gastrocnemius is known to be made up of more fast-twitch fibers, while the soleus is made of slow-twitch fibers. This is important as the calf muscles (or muscles) is good for both explosive power, as well as long, endurance type activities. Both of these are important for a runner!
One last thing – the calf muscles actually help with blood flow throughout your body as well! When you are standing/moving the calf muscles helps push blood back up towards your heart, which is important in preventing things such as blood clots.
Common Calf Injuries
The most common calf muscle pain is caused by some sort of strain in the calf muscle. This can feel like a nagging, smaller pain all the way up to a severe strain that can keep you somewhat immobile. A strain usually occurs due to the muscles being stretched beyond the ability to handle the tension. This can happen due to weak muscles from overexertion or running too many miles too quickly.
Although not a calf muscle pain, this injury is commonly misperceived as a calf injury. The Achilles tendon attaches to the calf muscles and the heel of the foot. The tendon stretches and pulls to help push your toes downward which is essential in walking and running.
When you rupture your Achilles you will instantly learn that you cannot walk or run. You may also hear a large “pop” when the tendon ruptures and feel like someone hit you in the back of the leg with an object. Although it may not be associated with severe pain, it is a severe injury that require surgery or a boot/cast.
Calf Muscle Pain Prevention
Warming up prior to a workout and stretching your muscles afterwards is an important step in making sure you do not injure your calf muscles. A common stretch for calf muscles is the wall calf stretch in which you use the wall for balance and stretch one calf muscle at a time (similar to using a slant board). You can also dynamically stretch your calf through jumping warm ups and by utilizing a ProStretch.
As a runner, you should also be aware of how much the intensity of your runs and the increase in mileage effect your muscles. When training, try to stay around a 10% increase in mileage per week.
When running barefoot and in minimalist shoes it is important to slowly move into your mileage as your calf muscles will most likely be working overtime as you adjust to a newer running style.
In terms of products that may help reduce and prevent calf muscle pain, calf supports help increase circulation throughout the leg as well as keeps the muscle warm.
Have you had calf muscle pain? What did you do to help prevent or heal the pain? Comment below!