Our Physio and Founder, Andy Wray, answered...
Pain in your calves after exercise or running can be frustrating and stop you or your goals in their tracks.
There are many reasons why we get pain in our calves but diagnosis is imperative to plan your next steps as cramp, a strain and DOMS all cause this discomfort.
The indicators to look out for
Immediate tightening of the calf complex during a run is an indication that if you keep pushing the calf muscle will tear, which can sometimes happen immediately after this tightening. In this instances you need to STOP, walk, stretch and see if it subsides quickly. Many athletes are worried about being seen walking as most choose to run for 30 or 60 minutes non-stop at a time. In my experience, this is always the pattern. Simply walking for a short period allows the muscle to recover, much the same as other muscles are allowed to do during sets of lifting in the gym. Don’t be scared to walk, and if the stiffness resolves, gently pick up the pace. However, you don’t have to complete a run at the same pace; it may be that you finish it walking with intervals of running. However if the calf tightens again then don’t run, just walk home.
There are many muscles in the calf complex and any of the fibres can be too weak for your pace, the distance or the body weight they’re having to support. It takes time to adapt to all of these variables and you have to be well hydrated to avoid cramps.
Recovery from cramp, a strain or DOMS in your calf
If you’ve suffered cramp, a strain or you have DOMS after a particularly hard or long run, recovery is key. Compression calf sleeves, rest, fluid and stretches are paramount until this discomfort reduces. Simply trying to run through it can cause chronic tears in muscle fibres. However you could try a low impact activity like cycling until you’re able to run again which allows you to stay aerobically fit and also targets the muscle fibres that don’t need as much recovery.
Strains usually recover within two weeks and DOMS usually quicker within a week. But don’t just go out and snag another fast or long run. Most seasoned runners will always choose a "recovery run" which involves a much slower pace and shorter distance.
Pro tip: Try our NEMIUS Calf Guards (available for men and women) during a run; they give the muscle cells support due to the compression and result in fewer cramps, fewer strains and definitely less DOMS.