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Managing calf strain for runners

By Connie Wan, P.h.D | October 11th, 2017

Calf strain is a common injury among runners. A calf strain is a tear of the muscle fibres of the muscles at the back of the lower leg. Calf injuries usually occur as a result of a sudden pushing off movement or from excessive over-stretching of the calf muscles as demonstrated in jumping activities or during quick changes of direction.

There are a few common mistakes by runners that could cause calf strain. Poor warm-up is the most common one. Started too fast is another common cause of calf strain. Sometime, change of shoes could also increase the chance of a calf strain.

Managing a calf strain is not difficult if you deal with it the right way immediately after the injury.  If not, the pain in the calf could become chronic and the recovery time could triple. Here are a few tips from Mike Ryan, a physical therapist and trainer for NFL:

  • Ice immediately– Stop the bleeding and minimize the inflammation.  Pack it in ice for 15 minutes or ice massage it for 10 minutes as soon as possible.
  • Shorten the heel cord– Adding a bilateral 1/2″ heel lift in both shoes will decrease the tension on the heel cord – includes the Achilles tendon and the two calf muscles – when walking throughout the day.
  • Apply compression– Compressing an injured muscle is always a positive thing to do.
  • Lengthen to strengthen– With a calf strain, gradual lengthening of the fascia and muscles should always take place before calf strengthening begins.   Try downward dog stretch (a yoga post) to elongate the fascia from the low back to the arches.  This is a key step to decrease calf pain after the initial symptom of muscle “grabbing” is gone.
  • Slow down– Avoid the urge to aggressively stretch and strengthen a calf strain. Boring functional activities like bike riding and walking will get you pain-free sooner than trying to run while the muscle continues to “knot-up” or “grab”.
  • Soft tissue in Time– Any early massage or soft-tissue work should be minimal for the first 3-4 days post-calf strain. Digging into the muscle early on will only delay the healing and triple the length of your time to return to pain-free running.

Happy running!

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