Calves Hurt When Running: Causes And How To Treat

Calves Hurt When Running: Causes And How To Treat
  • BSX Insight

If you are a runner, you may have experienced calf pain. This is a common injury that can be caused by running too much or wearing the wrong shoes. Calf pain can also be a sign of a more serious injury. Keep reading to get a further explanation about the causes of why calves hurt when running and how to treat and prevent it. Let’s get started.

Why Calves Hurt When Running?

Why Calves Pain When Running

Although calf pain is normal after an injury, runners frequently complain of calf pain with no previous trauma. These cases are similar to many runners, and the key is to identify and fix the problem.

Calf pain that is not traumatizing follows a predictable pattern. The pain starts while running and gets worse as you continue to run. Sometimes, the calf can feel tight enough to stop runners from running. Although the pain may subside after running, the calf can feel tighter for several days. Symptoms are usually minimal when you’re not running.

Although there are several possible diagnoses, such as superficial posterior compartment syndrome or sciatica, the most common reason I see is fatigue in the calf muscles. The question is, “Why are my calf muscles fatigued?” Each muscle has its own strength and endurance. If a muscle is weaker than the others, it can become tight and painful. There are usually two parts to the reason this happens.

  • The calf is being overloaded
  • The calf muscles are weak or lack endurance.

Overloading The Calves

This is the first question. What’s happened recently that corresponds to your calf problems?

Common causes include introducing speed or hill work, increasing weekly miles, and increasing training intensity. Calf pain is a common symptom for those who transition to running barefoot.

Running barefoot involves landing on your forefoot, which can cause more strain to the Achilles tendon and calf muscles than running in shoes. You may also consider another exercise, such as running or gym sessions. Your calf might already be tired if you started running and added running to your routine.

Exercise can have a subtle, cumulative effect that can be subtle. If you run often, you might become accustomed to running on tired, heavy legs. It is possible to become unaware of how tired your muscles are. I experienced calf tightness during marathon training. I was shocked to find that I couldn’t do a calf raise on either side of my legs even though there was no pain.

If you are suffering from calf fatigue, the first thing to do is rest. You need to hear the dreaded R-word! It is often possible to get relief with a few days’ rest, stretching, and a couple of sessions with the foam roller.

This is a good idea before thinking about any calf weakness. Adding more exercises to an already tired calf could make it worse. You may also need to review your training schedule.

Do you do too much and get too little rest? Temporarily reducing your mileage or adding a rest day can resolve symptoms and allow you to make progress. This article can provide more information.

Check out our article if you suffer from cramping when running: Cramping When Running: What Are Causes And How To Treat?

Assessment of Calf Strength

This is the easiest way to achieve this goal.

  • For balance, stand on one leg and place your fingertips on a table or wall.
  • Slowly lower your heels and push up on your toes.
  • As many as possible (not just lifting your heels a little bit, but going straight up).
  • Count the repetitions, and compare the left and right sides.

It should feel easy for both sides to be able to do the same amount of reps left and right. Although I don’t have any research supporting this claim, clinically, I prefer to see runners do 40+ reps per leg. A lower number than 30 could indicate a lack of endurance. This test may cause your symptoms. In this case, stop pushing through the pain.

A single calf raise can be very beneficial to strengthen your calf. You can do as many sets as you like, then rest for 1-2 mins and go back to it for 2-3 more sets. Aim to do 3 sets of 25-30 reps on days you’re not running.

To allow for greater movement, you can do the exercise on edge or at the top of a staircase. The heel should be below the step’s level. RunningPhysio will soon add a detailed article about calf strengthening.

Calf Tightness

Flexibility in the calf is important and should not be ignored. Before running, gently stretch your calf using mini squats or lunges. Anything that gently and controlled stretches your calf.

Use your static calf stretch after running or strength training (as described in our previous article about calf injury). The foam roller can also be used to loosen tight calves (although this is not recommended). ).

Other Causes of Calf Hurt When Running

Other Causes of Calf Hurt When Running

You Have Upset A Nerve

This condition is more severe than those described. You may have damaged a nerve in the back if you feel tingling, numbness, or very sharp pain at night. Before you think, “But I don’t have back pain!” You may not feel any pain in your back if you feel pain in your leg.

The reason is that the sensations and pain in the legs can block the pain signals coming from the back. People usually feel more pain in their backs as the nerve pain and funny sensations in their legs subside.

If you have any of these symptoms, I recommend that you see a physiotherapist.

Also read: Lower Back Pain When Running: Causes And Treatments 2022

Shoes That Can Cause Calf Pain

The “minimalist” shoe claims to help runners run more naturally. But, most runners I meet in the field have never heard of or thought about the heel-toe drop (offset), when purchasing a new trainer.

The heel-toe drop tells you how high your heel is above your toes while you are wearing the shoe. Standard running shoes have a drop of about 12 degrees. However, you can also get 8, 6, 4, and 0 degrees. Minimalist shoes usually have a 0-degree heel-toe drop (meaning your foot is flat).

Most people will have to adapt their running style to be able to run in a flatter shoes. This will increase the strain on the calves, as we have already mentioned. If you change from a regular trainer too quickly to a flatter one, your calves could become sore and overworked.

If you are looking to change to flatter shoes, here’s my suggestion:

  • Start slowly and do shorter runs in the new shoes.
  • Your calf muscles should be strengthened.
  • Flat shoes are best for most of the day.

Medial Tibial Stress (shin splints)

Medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints) can initially feel like tight or stiff calves. Most people feel discomfort in the area between the shin bone (where the muscle attaches) of their shin bones. People initially feel discomfort in this area when they exercise, but the condition becomes more severe and can cause pain while walking or resting.

This condition should not be ignored as it can quickly lead to stress fractures. This injury is notoriously stubborn and can take many months to heal, depending on how severe it has become. If you feel pain in the area of the shin bone (where the muscle attaches), then it is a good idea to consult a physiotherapist.

Related: Why Does My Hip Hurt After Running? Causes And Treatments

Grades of Calf Strain/Calf Tear

Muscle tears and strains are classified according to how severe they are in terms of how many fibers have been damaged or destroyed.

Grade 1 Calf Strain

This is the smallest of all calf injuries. The muscle has suffered minor damage to its muscle fibers. This type of less severe muscle strain is not usually noticeable until the activity ceases. When the muscle is stretched, you may feel tightness, cramping sensations, and mild soreness.

Grade 2 Calf Tear

Sometimes, this is called a partial calves tear. Although a greater number of muscle fibers are torn, the muscle is still largely intact. Calf pain can be more severe during exercise, particularly running and walking. The area can often feel tender to the touch.

Grade 3 Calf Rupture

Total rupture. Total rupture of all muscle fibers, resulting in loss of continuity. This is severe calf pain that can be very disabling. An athlete will not be able to walk without pain. Sometimes, bruising can be seen below the tear site. There may also be a bulge in the calf muscle that has reacted to itself.

Different Types of Treatment For Calf Pain

Different Types of Treatment For Calf Pain

The severity of your injury, the tissue damage, and the cause of the strain will affect your treatment.

Your practitioner may perform form tests and strength tests to determine the likely cause of your injury. They may take a running record if you are able to run.

Your practitioner will determine the cause of your injury and the level of pain or inhibition. Then, they can recommend the best treatment for you. No matter the severity of the injury or how severe it is, calf strain healing relies on five basic principles of training.

Muscle activation refers to the process of creating a link between your brain and your muscles in order to allow for the recruitment of muscle fibers during certain movement patterns.

After an injury or years of relying upon other muscle groups, the brain’s connection with a particular muscle set may decrease. This can make it more difficult to recruit and lead to compromises in form.

Your physical therapist will help you “retrain” your brain using specific exercises that target the right muscle groups. This will encourage good biomechanics and allow you to access them more easily.

Muscle strength is only possible if all of your muscles are awake and available. You may have neglected a muscle group in your past. This could make it less strong to offset the running load. It takes several weeks to strengthen your muscles. Your practitioner will recommend specific exercises depending on your needs. ).

Movement Control is the next step toward injury prevention and biomechanics. Once you have established the foundation of strength and activation, it is possible to control that power using sport-specific movements. Split squats can be used to improve hip control and pall of presses for strengthening your feet. You may also use these drills to help you coordinate.

Stability Training sounds like movement control, but its function is focused on the lower extremities and reaction. Running requires many micro-adjustments to factors like the pavement slope, debris, and even internal balance. Your muscles must practice responding to unexpected stimuli in order to achieve this. You can do this by using a balance board or running with a light push.

Running Retraining is the last and most important step to resolving calf pain over the long term. Although the above strategies may temporarily relieve your pain, they don’t address the root cause of the injury. It is only a matter of time.

Retraining is about optimizing your running form to reduce shock absorption, increase power generation and prevent injury. You might address hip hinge, running cadence, and ankle pronation based on your injury and assessment.

These are the key elements for addressing calf injuries while running. It’s not easy to understand, but calf discomfort has many causes.

It is important that you get treatment tailored to your injury. Focus on the categories below to improve your running form and decrease your chance of injury.

You don’t have to believe us; let’s talk to one of our runners.

Calf Strain Treatment And Rehabilitation

PRICE Treatment

My 12-week calf strengthening program for runners is great for anyone who has suffered from repeated calf strains in the past.

Initial Treatment

Treatment depends on the severity and location of the injury. If you are experiencing severe pain or significant loss of function, please consult a doctor, physical therapist, or athletic trainer. An expert can evaluate the extent of the strain and determine how to treat it.

This discussion will focus on Grade I or minor grade II injury. PRICE, which stands to Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation, is the initial treatment for a sprain.

Protect. Overstretching is the most common error. Avoid overstretching in this phase. At most, you should only do a gentle range.

Rest. You may need to reduce the amount of training you do or stop training depending on the severity and duration of your injury. You may have to stop participating in activities for 2 weeks or more if you are experiencing severe pain. Keep your activities pain-free.

Ice. Ice should be applied for no more than 20 minutes per hour.

The compression method helps to reduce swelling.

Elevation. Combining compression and elevation is a great way of reducing swelling and edema. For maximum effectiveness, position your leg higher than the heart’s level.

Treatment for Grade 2 and Grade 3

A good rule of thumb for when to rest is three weeks for a Grade 1 strain and four weeks for a Grade 2 strain. A grade 3 tear may require surgery, followed by a 12-week rehabilitation program.

To avoid recurrence and secondary injuries, it is important to do progressive, comprehensive, exercise-based rehabilitation. These are often caused by compensatory movements that may have become routine during the injury period.

The rehabilitation phase, like any injury, is a great opportunity to focus on areas we often neglect in our training sessions. When you have restricted activity, the core muscles and glute muscles can be great spots to focus on. These muscles are more resilient and can be strengthened to improve performance and recovery from injuries.

After sustaining an injury to the leg or foot, rehabilitation’s first step is fixing any limps that might still be there. These limps can become a habit in running or walking and lead to lower back problems.

To strengthen the injured limb, it is important to do single-leg exercises. This will remove the temptation to use one leg to carry the burden. These exercises allow the body to regain its balance, which was lost on the injured side of the injury.

Low-level plyometric exercises can be used as a prelude to running once improvements in balance and single-leg strength have been made. Reintroduce muscles to the dynamic loading required for running, jumping, skipping, and hopping are all good options.

After completing the multidirectional plyometric exercise, you can return to running in short bursts. It is easy to injure your muscle gain by doing too much at once. It is important to approach running systematically, focusing on each session. When making contact, pay attention to your running technique, especially the foot position.

Start with straight lines and gradually accelerate and decelerate. Slowly introduce more aggressive pace changes and changes in direction.

How To Prevent Sore Calves When Running

These exercises will help prevent calf pain after running.

Before You Start Exercising, Warm-Up.

This should be a priority if you want to avoid injury and perform at your best. You must warm up properly, especially if you continue your training and rehabilitation. To increase blood flow, I recommend increasing your warm-up time by a minimum of 10 minutes. This will allow for greater mobility and prepare the tissues for exercise.

Single-Leg Squat

Single-Leg Squat

Balance on one leg and flex your hips, knees, and ankles. Perform a mini squat, keeping your knees aligned with your first two toes. Then, return to standing. Keep the knee aligned.

Calf Raise

Calf Raise

Stand with your heels hanging off a step and your weight supporting the soles of your feet. Slowly lower the heels towards the ground until they are below the height of your toes. Next, lift the heels using the calves to make them higher than your toes.

Calf Stretches

Calf Stretches

Keep one foot in front of the other and your hands on the wall, straighten the rear leg and flex the knee. You should feel a strong calf stretch in your rear leg by pushing the rear heel into the ground.

Wobble Cushion Balance

Wobble Cushion Balance

Balance in a single-leg stance on any surface that is unstable. Start with a stable surface and work your way up.



Jumps can be used to re-instate the calf complex by landing on the forefoot and staying light. Start by doing 10 jumps at the spot. Next, you will be able to do as many jumps from one spot to another for as 20 seconds. You can then add multidirectional jumps to all planes of motion.


Follow the same method as when you were moving through the jumps program. Perform these dynamic movements as hops to prevent the body from compensating by using the uninvolved side.


Why are my calves so tight when I run?

Calf pain and injury are common themes among runners because the muscles and tendons are some of the first structures that get subjected to the rigors of running impact. If they aren’t physiologically and biomechanically prepared to handle the impacts of your training, they’re left especially vulnerable to injury.

How do I loosen up my calves?

While holding on to a chair, keep one leg back with your knee straight and your heel flat on the floor. Slowly bend your elbows and front knee and move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.

How do I know if my calf pain is serious?

A leg that is swollen, pale, or unusually cool. Calf pain, particularly after prolonged sitting, such as on a long car trip or plane ride. Swelling in both legs along with breathing problems. Any serious leg symptoms that develop for no apparent reason.


If you are a runner, you may have experienced calf pain. This is a common problem, and there are several possible causes. Treatment depends on the cause of the pain. We hope that this article can help you deal with your pain.

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