How to treat a tight calf after running
You’re working hard to get fit, but every time you try and exercise or run, your calves get crazy tight!
I’ve seen a lot of this in the clinic recently, so here’s my top 5 steps to dealing with tight calves….
1) STRETCH morning and night
Hold each calf stretch for 30-60 seconds, twice through (i.e. 4-8 minutes/session).
Before you exercise:
Hold each stretch for 10 seconds or less, x5 each leg (“dynamic stretching”). Stretches held for longer than this before exercise may put you at risk of injury.
After you exercise:
Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds
You must stretch each individual muscle for 4 minutes per day, to achieve a real change. Yep, put in the hard yards.
2) MASSAGE or FOAM ROLL YOUR TIGHT CALF AFTER RUNNING
Foam roll once per day for a few weeks, until you feel significant relief from the calf tightness. Remember each time you exercise or spend long days on your feet, your calves will need an extra dose of rolling or massage.
If you don’t know what a foam roller is, seek regular massage from your favourire physiotherapist (hi there!). We also often use dry needling as a very effective treatment for tight calves
How often do you need a massage? This depends on a few factors:
- How long have tight calves been an issue for you?
- What is your training frequency?
- How TIGHT are your calves?
If you’ve had tight calves for a few months, and are training 3x/wk at moderate intensity with moderately tight calves, I’d recommend the following treatment plan:
- Week 1 and 2: Massage 2x/wk
- Then progress for Week 3-6: Massage 1x/wk
- Finally if you are still experiencing tightness – Week 7+: Review progress and develop new treatment plan to suit
Physio treatment including massage and dry needling can really speed up this process too, so book in if you’re sick of managing this on your own. You can see our available appointment times here
3) HOT COLD THERAPY
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?? (**not**).
Look at the bigger picture – how bad are your calves? What’s it worth to you to be able to exercise without your calves getting ridiculously tight? Exactly, I figure it’s worth the effort.
How do I do hot cold therapy?
When you shower after your training session or event, turn the shower to cold for 30 seconds, then back to hot for 30 seconds, and repeat this process 3 times. You can finish your shower as normal, and you get bonus points for additional stretching in the shower (careful you don’t slip!)
After big events (e.g. running a half marathon), I’ll fill the bathtub with ice and water, and alternate warm shower and “ice-bath” (literally!) for a more hardcore version.
Compression pants, or specific ‘calf compression sleeves’ can be used during exercise, or worn after a training session to aid recovery. Trial compression during or after a session, and find what works best for you.
Personally, I prefer using compression socks after a session, right after I’ve done a dose of HOT COLD THERAPY. I don’t love the process, but I love the amazing difference it makes to recovery.
This should actually be at number one, as the highest priority of them all! If you are currently exercising by running, walking or doing movements like lunging or jumping, your calves will naturally build strength anyway. You may not need to do specific strength exercises if you are already gaining strength through your exercise routine.
Calf raises are a very simple way to build calf strength. There are many options for this, depending on your current calf strength. Given there are 2 main muscles in your calf, I encourage you to incorporate both straight leg and bent leg strength options. Progress by reducing to a single leg, or holding onto weights/a small child as you do them.
- Double leg calf raises
- Single leg calf raises
- Bent knee double leg calf raises
- Single leg bent knee calf raises
- Jumping or skipping
Calf strength is also impacted by your overall conditioning and strength. We see many runners make great progress by attending our Physio Exercise Classes. Through lifting weights, or attending our Pilates-based classes, the increased core strength can make a huge difference.
You can add challenge and variety by changing the speed of your calf raises, the range (ie lower heel off edge of a step), or adding weight by putting some heavy things in a backpack, or holding a small child or pet.
Treatment for a tight calf after running
There you go! 5 steps to dealing with tight calves.
Keep in mind this is general advice that applies to most people, but if you have a previous injury, or additional concerns, your tight calves may need an individual assessment and personalised advice.
If this is you, book in online to see a physiotherapist by clicking here.
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