How to Care For Sore Calves After Running
You've worked hard, pulled yourself off the sofa, and started running. You should receive a cookie or at least the satisfaction of feeling good. Instead, you're rewarded with sore calves after running.
Do sore calves mean you have an injury, and what do you do to prevent sore calves or treat sore calves? Sore calves are a natural part of running. You can prevent them with proper stretching and strengthening techniques, and you can treat sore calves the same way you treat other sore muscles, with ice, massage, and anti-inflammatory medication.
Why Do I Have Sore Calves After Running?
Why are my calves sore after running? And is it normal for calves to be sore after running?
It's perfectly normal for you to have sore calves from running. Sore calves are different than calf pain after running, so know the difference. Tight calves after running can lead to painful injuries, but basic calf soreness is normal.
You might not experience soreness immediately, but rather your calves may begin to ache a bit after a solid 24 to 48 hours after your run.
So, then, what causes running calf pain? To understand this, you need to understand what your muscles are doing.
Muscles produce three different types of contractions that lead to sore muscles.
- Concentric contractions occur when your muscle moves against resistance. This contraction occurs in your bicep when you're attempting a curl and moving the weight up, toward your shoulder. You're lifting against the resistance.
- Isometric contractions occur when the muscle resists a load, like when you're just attempting plank exercise or doing a wall sit.
- An eccentric contraction occurs when you attempt to slow down a stronger load. Picture your muscles when you're doing a bicep curl and lowering your arm. You're fighting gravity, which is assisted by the weights in your hands.
Studies have proven that eccentric contractions tend to cause more muscle soreness than isometric and concentric contractions. Eccentric contractions cause more wear and tear on the muscle fibers, and thus result in more muscle soreness.
If you gradually introduce eccentric loads on any particular muscle, you will have less or no soreness at all.
Thus the gait of your run, your speed, and your shoes can all affect your calf soreness.
Think about this: when you increase your speed significantly and quickly, you're putting more stress on your calf, which will thus lead to calf soreness.
Even if you are training for a race and increase your load gradually, you will most likely have sore calves after the first running race of your season. When you have competition around you, even if you're running for fun, you will run faster naturally. You will push yourself and ultimately end up with some sore calves.
How Do Shoes Affect My Calves?
Standard running shoes have a 12 mm "drop" from heel to toe. This means that your toe is approximately 12 mm lower than your heel. The amount of drop in your shoe will limit your ability to flex your foot.
Racing flats, which are shoes people typically wear when they race, have a 4mm drop, and thus your ankle will flex more. Your heel is lower, which means your calf will take more of the load and feel sorer once your race has finished.
As a side note, track spikes actually have a negative drop. This means your heel is lower than your toes, and your calf will feel the strain even more.
If you run on any soft material, like a squishy grass trail, your calf will sink and take on more load as well.
So a combination of your shoes and your running surface can cause your sore calves.
Is It OK to Run With Sore Calves?
Sore calves are not an injury. They're an indication that you did some exercise and worked those muscles.
Thus, you can still run with sore calves, as long as you stretch them and treat them appropriately. Stretch them out, roll them with a foam roller, and ice them if you need to. Do not do any strenuous running, like hills or sprints, if your calves are sore and you can't get them stretched out.
How Long Do Sore Calves Last?
Sore calves with no significant injury other than the regular muscle fiber tears caused by working out will not show up immediately after a run. Usually, you'll begin to feel sore 24 hours after you've worked out. Sometimes the soreness won't show up for 48 to 72 hours after your run.
The late muscle soreness is known as DOMS, or delayed-onset muscle soreness. Delayed muscle soreness is a common phenomenon after any amount of working out.
What Do I Do for Sore Calves?
First, don't freak out. Sore calves are a normal part of working out. They indicate that you've done some exercise and your muscles are responding.
Treat sore calves like you'd treat any other muscles. You can use cold therapy or heat therapy purposefully. If you've ever treated arthritis, you'd do something similar for your sore muscles.
Alternate heat therapy and cold therapy on your calves once the soreness begins. Use heat for ten minutes and then follow this with ten minutes of ice packs. You can also take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.
How Do I Prevent a Calf Injury?
Tight calves are weak calves, so to prevent calf injuries, focus on strengthening your calves. You can gain maximum strength with two simple exercises.
1. Single-leg Calf Raises
Find a step or a raised platform. Put one foot on the platform, with your heel hanging over the edge. Then slowly lift your body up, ending with your heel raised above your toes.
Slowly drop your heel below your toes. This is one rep.
Start this exercise with 3 sets of 12 repetitions. Complete the exercise two to three times a week. Progress to 3 sets of 20 repetitions and ultimately 1 set of 50 repetitions.
You can add an extra challenge by holding light dumbbells in your hands as you complete the raises.
Time yourself as you complete a repetition. Each repetition should take three seconds. Try to lift for one second and then lower slowly for two seconds.
2. Wall Squats
Wall squats will strengthen your soleus, one of the main muscles in the calf that runs from your knee to your ankle.
Put you back flat against the wall with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and your knees at a right angle. Then start by holding the sit for 30 seconds. Do this 3 to 4 times.
Progress to a 45-second hold for 3 to 4 repetitions, and then further progress by adding dumbbells in your hands.
Complete these exercises in proportion to the amount of running you're doing. So if you run often, complete these exercises often.
Also, if you're feeling some intensely tight muscles, start strength training more aggressively. Attempt to complete these exercises four to five times a week if you're regularly feeling tight muscles.
Sore Calves Lead to Strong Calves
Sore calves after running do not necessarily mean you're injured. They just mean you're working hard to get stronger. You can rehab your calves and then strength train to bring a lightness back to your step.
For all of your calf, knee, and overall leg health needs, contact us. We have the resources you need to keep active.