Running is a source of great joy for runners. The pleasure that comes with pushing your body to move faster and further is like no other.
But sometimes that joy can turn sour when runners are forced to join the ranks of the walking wounded because of an injury.
One of the most common sources of pain and injury for runners is calf pain. The only problem is that it’s difficult to know what causes calf pain while running. Here are 30 possible causes of the calf pain, so you can identify, heal, and get back out on the roads.
1. Muscle tear
This is an unfortunate one, because it means that you might have to spend a fair amount of time off your feet. This pain will be more severe than your average injury. If you suspect you have a tear in one of the muscles in your calf, beat feet to the doctor to get the treatment you need to facilitate treatment and speed up your return to running.
2. Achilles tear
Another particularly bad one. Again, if you suspect that this is the case, don’t delay in seeking medical attention. This one probably won’t get better on its own, and the healing could take quite some time, so the sooner you get competent medical care, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to running.
3. Achilles strain
A less catastrophic injury, but still one that will at least require a period of time away from running. Remember the importance of rest, icing and elevation with this one. It is simply not possible to run your way through this injury.
4. The Wrong Running Shoes
Listen, I know you were at the mall the other day and you had your eye on those brightly-colored new minimalist shoes, but resist the urge to wear a pair of running shoes that don’t match your body type or your running style. If you are a runner who pronates more than average, it’s probably not enough for you to wear a light racer when you’re training. If you need more medial support, for example, make sure you have a shoe that provides you the appropriate amount of motion control, or you’ll be missing precious time out of your training schedule for injury.
5. Heeled Shoes
A more effective torture device has never been invented. Even for ordinary folks, high-heeled shoes can create a significant risk of injury over time. For runners, these shoes can create a greater risk of calf injury. If you have to opt for a heel, try a lower one that won’t be so detrimental to you bio-mechanics.
6. Too Much Distance Built Up in Too Little Time
If you’re in a training phase that involves increasing distance, you should do so in a gradual and measured way. Increasing your overall mileage, or the mileage of your long run, too quickly can lead to shin and calf problems. A good rule of thumb is the 10% rule, which says you shouldn’t increase by more than 10% week-over-week. We all fall into the trap of wanting to build mileage faster than is advisable, but resist and reap the benefit of avoiding an injury, especially to something important like a calf.
7. Shin Splints
Often closely linked to too precipitous an increase in running mileage, shin splints are an irritation of the muscles of along the tibia, and can sometimes manifest as calf pain. These are no joke, but you may be able to run through them. It’s important to cut back on your mileage, ice your legs, and elevate the limb whenever you can. You can also try exercises to strengthen those muscles so as to prevent a recurrence.
8. Running Too Fast
This is a corollary to number 6 above. In addition to avoiding the addition of too much extra mileage too quickly, you should also try to keep from increasing your speed too precipitously. One way to avoid calf pain resulting from running too fast is to strictly observe your training plan, which should take into account your current fitness level.
9. Achilles Tendinitis
This is an irritation of the tendon that connects your calf muscles to the connective tissues in your heel. It is often caused by–you guessed it–too quickly increasing the duration or intensity of exercise. Slow down! Reduce your mileage! That way you can get back to running as quickly as possible and keep from being injured.
10. Too Much Hill Work
Hill work can be a good thing, but too much of this good thing can put a strain on your calf muscles and cause a number of problems that manifest as pain.
11. Compartment Syndrome
Be ready for some gruesome sights if you’re going to look this one up on Google. Compartment syndrome occurs when excessive pressure builds within an enclosed space within the body, in this case within the muscles and tissues of the lower leg. In the calf, compartment syndrome can result from a fracture or other injury that results in bleeding into the tissues. If you suspect you’ve got compartment syndrome, medical care is a pressing necessity.
12. Gastrocnemius Strain
The gastrocnemius is one of the large muscles in the calf. If you overdid your training, you might have strained the gastrocnemius. Rest it, ice it, and elevate it.
13. Soleus Strain
Another one of the muscles in the calf. The fix for this is the same as 12 above.
14. Weak Calf Muscles
Sometimes it’s not just too much distance or too much speed. Sometimes you have to get stronger to prepare your body to absorb the pounding of running. If your calf muscles or the other muscles that hold your form are weak, it can lead to injuries. Try some strength training.
15. Failure to Stretch Adequately
Stiff muscles that haven’t been stretched are more susceptible to injury. We’re all in a hurry, but we have to stretch!
16. Poor Form
If you don’t have the basic muscle strength to hold your form together over the course of a run, you can run into injury problems. As with number 14, it’s important to strength train to improve your form.
17. Muscle Cramp
Maybe that calf pain you’re feeling is just a muscle cramp. That should be easy to take care of. Eat a banana, drink some water, and rest that leg.
18. Poor Hydration
Poor hydration can lead to muscle cramps. Making sure you get enough water can, at times, be inconvenient, but it is of the utmost importance. Drink enough water.
19. Mineral Imbalance
If you have a trace mineral deficiency, such as a dearth of magnesium, it can result in muscle cramps. Make sure if you’re sweating a lot that you replace those minerals you’re losing.
20. Incomplete Recovery from a Prior Injury
It’s really difficult to stop running when you’re injured. But you’ve got to do it. Many people keep running through injuries when what they really need is to stop long enough for their bodies to knit themselves back together. Make sure you can run without pain before you start back after an injury.
21. Weak Hamstrings/Glutes
Even if your calf muscles themselves are strong enough, runners need strong muscles in their hips, core, and upper legs to ensure that appropriate running form can be sustained throughout the run. When form breaks down, runners get injured. Again, strength training is an indispensable part of running. Don’t skip it.
22. Inadequate Rest Between Runs
If you went particularly hard (or far) in a workout and try to do too much too soon afterward, you can experience lower leg pain. Make sure your rest is adequate to recover from the intensity of a particular workout.
23. Inadequate Warmup
Just as with stretching, if you don’t warm up your muscles, they are more prone to injury. Make sure you are adequately warming up.
24. Vascular Problem
In some cases, calf pain can be the result of a vascular condition such as claudication, wherein an arterial obstruction results in muscle pain. It goes without saying that you need to get to a doctor if you suspect this is the problem.
25. Nerve Problem
In some cases, calf pain could be the result of a nerve issue such as spinal stenosis. In spinal stenosis a narrowing of the space between vertebrae can place pressure on a nerve, resulting in pain in an extremity.
26. Bone Problem
This is one that will take several weeks to heal. Sometimes calf pain is the result of a small fracture in the tibia. If you suspect you have a stress fracture, you should talk to your medical professional to see if you need to immobilized your leg.
27. Scar Tissue
Scar tissue from a previous injury can actually lead to muscle pain. Consult your physician to determine how serious a problem this is.
This is a chronic tendon injury. In the case of calf pain, it could be tendinopathy of the achilles tendon. Get to a doctor for treatment.
29. Tennis Leg
This is a specific sort of tear in the gastrocnemius, and is a serious condition for which medical care is needed. See number1 above.
30. Worn Out Running Shoes
Even if you have the right kind of running shoes, it’s important to replace your running shoes from time to time. If the mileage you’ve put on a particular pair of shoes is too great, or if it’s just been too long since you replaced your shoes, the shoes won’t be providing the protection your legs need, and calf pain could result. Get thee to a shoe store and get a new pair!
If you have a pain in your calf, it could be a lot of things. Stretch, drink water, warm up, rest, and wear the right shoes. If that doesn’t work and you do end up with leg pain, there’s a chance you’ll need to visit your doctor. The faster you get healed up, the faster you can get back out there.