Running related calf injuries!


Dreaded calf (or baby cow) muscle strains are a common running injury, and often leave you going crazy with the next running event getting closer and closer! Greater than 50% of running power is generated from the calf muscles, so it’s understandable that the calf can be a potential site of muscular injury for a runner.


Types of calf injuries: 


The calf is made up of 2 main muscles – the Gastrocnemius and Soleus. It’s important to understand which part of the calf is injured when designing a rehab plan and preventing recurrences.

  1. Soleus strain – In most cases, runners don‘t feel a sudden twinge – but feel a tightening sensation in the calf that develops slowly during a run. This type of strain often involves injury to the soleus muscle and may occur with fatigue, overtraining or a change in running surface / hills. The Soleus muscle works harder during distance running and where the knee is in a bent position.

  2. Gastrocnemius strain – These trigger sudden onset of pain in the region of the calf, often caused by faster intervals, sprinting, or high-speed tempo runs. The gastroc muscle crosses over the knee joint and works harder where the knee is in a straight position, and explosive sprinting/jumping activities.


What causes calf strains when running?


  • Getting too keen! We’ve all been there, and we know how exciting training for your next event can be. Quickly Increasing training loads, speed or hill work most often overloads the calf.
  • Poor strength and endurance of the calf!
    Clinically I like to see all runners be able to complete 25 single leg calf raises repetitions with good form, and arbitrarily use the following assessment criteria:
    < 15 reps (poor)

    15-30reps (satisfactory)
    > 30reps (good)
  • Change in footwear – A change in heel to toe drop/angle with your shoes will change the amount of stretch and load on the calf muscle.
  • Hip/knee weakness: Your glutes and quads work with your calf to push you forward. If muscle groups higher up the kinetic chain aren’t doing they’re job it’s going to increase load on the calf. 
  • Running technique – A conscious change in running technique to mid-forefoot running


Can I still run with a calf strain?


Continuing to train in some form is important for a speedy recovery, whether it is a light running/walking program or cross-training program to keep you moving!

Severity of muscle strain can be assesed by your physio and will determine recovery timelines and structure of rehab. 

  • Grade 1: 1-2 weeks to return to some running
  • Grade 2: 2 weeks+ to return to some running
  • Grade 3: 3-6 weeks to return to some running
  • Grade 4: 3 months+ to return to some running

How do you treat a calf strain?


Accurate diagnosis of the type of calf injury, and early appropriate treatment can significantly affect duration of your recovery. 

Phase 1: Acute treatment is aimed at limiting pain and limiting further muscle damage.

  • No stretching
  • Ice and compression to limit muscle bleeding 
  • Normal walking pattern: Heel wedges or a crutch are often helpful in the first couple of days
  • Early calf loading exercises

Phase 2: Aimed at re-building calf load tolerance 

  • Progress calf strengthening exercises targeting both muscles!
  • Hip strength exercises

Phase 3: Building a resilient calf and a safe return to running 🙂

  • Plyometric and calf endurance exercises 
  • Return to running program!

If you have any questions shoot us a message or book an appointment online!

Any questions about an  injury shoot us a message, give us a call on (02) 4751 9127

or book a session online here.

Written by Kieran Fercher 


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