What Are Calf Injuries From Running and How Can You Avoid Them?

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Tuesday March 19, 2024

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Imagine you’re out for a run and you’ve finally hit your stride when suddenly feel a sharp pain in your leg that stops you in your tracks. Or maybe it’s a gradual soreness that won’t go away. Unfortunately, many runners don’t have to imagine this scenario — calf injuries are one of the most common obstacles for athletes of all ages.

Whether you’re currently dealing with an injury or trying to avoid one, being aware of common calf injuries, treatments and preventive measures is key.

Why Do Runners Get Calf Injuries?

The legs are clearly a runner’s most powerful tools, providing strength, speed and endurance for professional and amateur athletes alike. There are several causes for all types of calf injuries:

  • Overuse: While you might be eager to hit the track or trail every day, running too much can lead to overuse injuries. 
  • Increasing mileage too quickly: One of the most common mistakes runners make is increasing their weekly mileage too fast. While you might feel fine on the surface, you need time to adjust to the stress of running longer distances. Ramping up too quickly can lead to problems.
  • Inadequate rest: Your body needs time to rest and heal between activities. If you’re running too much or not sleeping enough, your calves and other muscles could pay the price.
  • Poor technique or form: Everyone’s form and gait vary slightly. However, poor posture, over-extended strides, bending at the waist and heel-striking are examples of poor form that can put too much pressure on your calves and cause injuries.
  • Improper footwear: While running doesn’t require a lot of equipment, that means the gear you use is all the more important. If you have the wrong footwear, you could be more susceptible to foot, ankle and calf injuries that impact your ability to run.
  • Muscle imbalances: Focusing on one muscle group over another can lead to muscle imbalances, which alter your stride or weaken your form.
Woman stretching

Common Types of Calf Injuries

Not all calf injuries are the same. In fact, there are many different issues caused by running that can affect your calves. The most common calf injuries include:

  • Tears and strains: A tear in the gastrocnemius or soleus muscle is a sudden, sharp pain in the calf that occurs mid-movement. These tears and strains can take anywhere from days to several weeks or months to fully heal.
  • Achilles tendonitis: The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body and connects the calf to the ankle. Tendonitis occurs when it becomes inflamed, often due to overuse after increasing mileage or workout intensity.
  • Shin splints: Two words that strike fear into any runner, shin splints are an overuse injury that manifests as pain in the shinbone. The stress can also affect your calves.
  • Other injuries: Running involves your whole body, which is an interconnected system. Missteps or injuries in other parts of your body, such as the ankles, feet, knees and hips, can impact your legs and calves.

Preventing Calf Injuries Caused by Running

Whether you’ve experienced calf injuries in the past or you’re worried about developing one, you can take preventive steps. 

  • Stretching: Taking a few minutes to stretch before or after a run is a good way to loosen up. Don’t push yourself too hard — just warm up your muscles to prepare for a good workout. You can foam-roll your calves after a run to lessen soreness and reduce injury risk.
  • Proper warmups and cooldowns: You need to prepare your body for an intense workout with adequate warmup and cooldown periods. Start every run with a few minutes of light jogging. At the end of your run, slow down and try some dynamic stretches, like jumping jacks or lunges.
  • Increase mileage gradually: If you’re trying to increase your monthly mileage, take it slow. A good rule of thumb is to boost your miles by no more than 10%-15% each week.
  • Use the right footwear: While you don’t need to spend a fortune on new shoes, investing in proper sneakers can provide the support you need to avoid 
  • Incorporate crosstraining: While you might prefer the track over the gym, adding a few strength training exercises to your workout routine can help prevent calf injuries. Building up your leg muscles and other parts of your body is a net benefit.
Weights and sneakers

Tips for Dealing With Injured Calves

If you’ve suffered any kind of calf injury that interrupts your running routine, you should seek medical attention and professional guidance. Physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers can provide expert advice, tailored to your needs, that gets you on the road to recovery.

Returning to running after an injury is a gradual process. Additional tips for healing include the following:

  • Adequate rest: While you might be eager to get back on your feet, all different types of calf injuries require time to heal. Rushing back to your regular pace could worsen your pain or reinjure the leg. Make sure you spend enough time resting to recover properly.
  • Low-impact activities: Once you’re not feeling pain in your injured calf, consider exploring low-impact exercises to ease back into movement. Walking, cycling, swimming and yoga are gentler yet strengthening workouts that aren’t as hard on your body as running. You can keep up your fitness without risking reinjuries immediately.
  • Stretching and flexibility exercises: If you don’t have a regular stretching routine or yoga practice, now could be a great time to start. These workouts loosen up your muscles and prepare them for higher-intensity activities like running.

Avoid Injured Calves From Running

A runner’s legs are the most powerful tool in their arsenal. Minor setbacks are often unavoidable on your fitness journey, but you can take steps to prevent serious injuries. From finding supportive footwear and stretching before every run to practicing the proper form while you’re on the track or trail, keeping your calves strong is in your best interest. If you do experience an injury, be patient and give yourself enough time to heal — you’ll be back on your feet in no time.

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