What is happening?
It is helpful to think of the anatomy of the calf in order to understand how it is strained. First, the calf is the muscle between the knee and the foot on the back of the leg. It is that nice meaty part of the lower leg and the strain means that the muscles were stretched or used beyond what it was able to tolerate. Its normal action is to lift you up on your tip toes, or point the toes.
Who gets calf strains?
Frequently the strain happens when you are running or sprinting. We see this injury frequently with sports like soccer where someone is sprinting to go get the ball. Or, you’re doing a sprint workout at Team Run Flagstaff on Tuesday nights, or sometimes it is just hiking uphill for a long period of time. So, what can you do about the strain and how can you prevent it? Luckily, there are a few things that you can do with a strained muscle, including getting your muscle working, getting the calf muscles strong, and stretching the muscles out.
What can I do about it?
The first thing that I would recommend you do is a simple calf raise. If you don’t have any stairs in your home, get a nice thick book, usually one from undergrad that you thought you would use forever, and put it on the floor. The key to this exercise is getting your heel as low below your toes as possible. This won’t be very comfortable at first, but it will get better. As you are standing on the edge of the step, or a thick book, raise your heels up all the way and then back down. You’re trying to get as much range in both directions as possible so be sure to stretch your heel all the way down, lift your heel all the way up, and then repeat. Do about 10 or 15 repetitions of these. You can do this exercise on both sides to make sure that both sides are nice and strong so this doesn’t happen on the opposite side. This intervention then becomes preventative of injury.
The second exercise to do is just simple range of motion. For this exercise lie on your back with one knee bent and the injured side resting on the bent knee. Pump your toes back and forth toward your head and then toward your feet. This is a contract relax cycle and you are getting the muscles stretched as well as increasing blood flow.
For the third exercise, put your toes up against the wall and the opposite foot is behind you with the knee straight. In this position stretch forward as far as you can. Try to get as much stretch in the back of the calf and leg as you can.
Doing these three exercises should definitely help to decrease that strain and pain when you’re doing your activities. We want you to be able to do these without a whole lot of pinching or irritation but a strong stretch. A little bit of discomfort is okay and normal.
If you do these for a couple of weeks and they help we’d absolutely love to hear about it. If you do them for a couple weeks and you’re still struggling to get to the point of being pain-free or seeing progress, we’d also love to hear from you, so please feel free to give us a call or drop contact us.
Common Running Injuries: Evaluation and Management. Arnold MJ, Moody AL.Am Fam Physician. 2018 Apr 15;97(8):510-516.PMID: 29671490
Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2009 Jun;2(2):74-7. doi: 10.1007/s12178-009-9045-8. Epub 2009 May 23.Gastrocnemius vs. soleus strain: how to differentiate and deal with calf muscle injuries J Bryan Dixon