Calf strains and tight calf muscles can be painful, but they may also be symptomatic of weakness elsewhere in the leg. The body is an amazing network of highly interconnected parts. This is especially evident when it comes to performance and pain. When everything is in balance, your interconnective chain of muscles, ligaments, and tendons all work together to allow for painless, almost effortless movement until a link of that chain is weakened or injured. But a strain, pull, or even tightness can set off a chain of events that, if not addressed, could lead to more complicated and painful results. It’s somewhat expected that a stressed or injured muscle can cause some level of discomfort in the surrounding muscles. But, because of the nature of the interconnective chain, the impacting “domino effect” of that weak link may be greater than you realize. If you are experiencing tightness in your calf, you may already have triggered a tightening of your hamstrings. The same is true for the opposite direction of the chain; in fact, one of the leading causes of heel pain (plantar fasciitis) is tight calf muscles.
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Calf Strain Causes
The calf muscle group consists of the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle. These muscles attach to your heel bone via the Achilles tendon and are some of the most used muscles in your body. Calf muscles get tight, plain and simple. High heeled shoes, sitting for prolonged periods, standing all day, and even physical activity and exercise can all contribute to calf tightness. Over and above the direct pain caused by tight calves, the main issue faced by individuals with tight calves is that tight calves alter the way you walk. And when you change the way you walk, you run the risk of setting off a painfully serious chain of events (heel pain, plantar fasciitis, ankle pain, knee pain, lower back pain…).
Calf Strain Symptoms
Calf strain symptoms can manifest in plenty of different ways, and most of them if left untreated, will interfere with your normal routine. Whether you have strained your calf through overexertion during exercise or suffer from a chronic illness, a problem with your calf can make it difficult to walk, run, or even sit comfortably. You may have strained your calf if you're experiencing these symptoms:
- Stiffness in the muscle
- Tightness or spasms
- Soreness or tenderness when you move or apply pressure to your calf muscle
- A dull, constant ache
- Sharp pain with certain specific movements
Like most pulled muscles, a strained calf muscle will use pain as a warning not to overexert. In most cases, rest and rehabilitation exercises are the key to recovery, and your doctor can best advise you on your ideal strategy.
Preventing and Treating Calf Strain
Your calf plays a pivotal role in maintaining the health of the interconnective chain of muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your leg. Maintaining flexibility in your calf is a critical element to avoiding other painful ailments such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, tight hamstrings, and even hip and back pain. As with all injuries, prevention is your best defense. Prevention options for calf strain include:
- Calf Stretching- Stretching properly, starting slowly, and increasing gradually will be critical if you want to avoid calf strain. To help maintain flexibility in the ankle joint, begin each day with a series of stretches and be certain to stretch prior to, and after, any exercise or excessive physical activity.
- Interconnective Chain Stretching & Strengthening- While maintaining calf flexibility is the key to avoiding other leg injuries, a stretching and strengthening routine that strengthens the entire chain, from your lower back to your feet, will assist in retraining the neuromuscular system to perform more efficiently and effectively enabling you to avoid common injuries.
- Orthotics and Heel Support- Bio-mechanically engineered inserts and heel cups can be placed in your shoes to correct misalignments or bolster the support of your foot and are available without a prescription. The temporary heel padding that these provide reduces the length that the Achilles tendon stretches each time you step, making it more comfortable to go about your daily routine.
- Proper Footwear- Low-heeled shoes with good arch support and shock absorption are best for the health of your foot. Look into heel wedges and other shoe inserts to make sure that your everyday foot mechanics are operating under ideal conditions.
- Cho-Pat® Calf Compression Sleeve- This offers great support and calf pain relief during recovery by improving circulation and maintaining body warmth
Long Term Healing
Stretch & Strengthen
- ProStretch Plus™- ProStretch has been proven to provide a deep stretch that increases flexibility along the entire interconnective chain, delivering the long-term flexibility needed to prevent pain and calf strain. This product has been preferred by athletes, trainers, and physical therapists for over 20 years.
- RangeRoller TM Pro-This firm massage tool gives a deep, targeted massage for added relief from calf pain. RangeRoller’s exclusive Trigger TreadsTM allow for a deep massage of both outer and inner layers of muscle and connective tissue.