Calf tightness in runners. A very simple blog post.

It doesn’t matter what runner you are, 100m sprint or someone who does 50 mile ultras. Calf tightness is that niggly pain you cannot seem to shift off. Hopefully you could have some useful info to take away for your training regimes. Remember you can see more about finding the right Therapist by clicking here.

So calf tightness is something that I see very regularly with my clients, it is something that unfortunately due to the nature of the sport cannot be avoided. It’s like seeing a pile of poo in the living room, you can spray it with as much air freshener as you like but you cannot stop it stinking. The same applies to your muscular aches.

So why are my calves tight?

Well… There are two reasons worth noticing in my humble opinion why your calves may be tight:

  1. They are overused. This is the most common reason runners experience. During the initial contact and the propulsion phase of your running gait, your calves are dealt with a heavy load and forced to respond immediately (otherwise you fall over). This is like a millisecond respond and you don’t even know it’s happening. But various factors can influence tightness and overuse which I will go through a few later.
  2. They are torn. Now this is not as common as the above. I mean, if you were to suffer a calf strain, you would struggle to walk let alone run! Not seen as much in runners unless the volume suddenly changes or you are forced to make a sudden sprint (the kind of sprint when the runner sees the finish line or cake 50m in front) but other than that its not as common as sprint/short burst sports. But… and there is a but on this one… if you don’t warm up and you do something high volume you don’t do yourself any questions so make sure you warm up!
Image result for baby cows
This is a baby Calf. It does not like to be stretched

The warm up is the bodies way of preparing, you prepare mentally by screaming in your car with music full blast, let your muscles prepare just as much. You can warm up by doing something simple like a low speed jog, few dynamic stretches. But never, EVER, just go straight into a session cold. It will bite you on the backside afterwards.

You can find plenty of tips on managing your running by heading over to Fitwins, a virtual running service offering cool bespoke medals in exchange for running certain distances.

Back onto the overuse reason

Here are two very common examples a runner’s calves will be overused.

Shoes

You’re going for a run and finding your calves getting incredibly tight after a run? Try this technique: Squeeze the front of your shoe, if it gives in then that means there is limited support. This means your calves are acting as that main line of support to propel your body forward, its no wonder your calves have had enough! If you are looking for a good running shop. Give Metres to Miles a shout in Epworth, they have some pretty neat offers. But changing your shoes to a good level of support usually does the trick

Image result for metres for miles epworth
Metres to Miles are based in Epworth just outside of Doncaster

Running technique

This is only seen in those that have either just started running or have most recently changed their running gait, either by injury or by choice. Whatever your positioning is when running, your body will use all muscles necessary to perform the required task.

It’s a broad topic to discuss with running technique. I don’t just mean that you run too many miles and you just develop tightness because you, that can happen. What I mean is you need to manage the additional factors that are causing you to be tight. There are so many different weird and wonderful things your feet and posture can be doing to put pressure on your calves. For example:

Sharon, a 10k runner, could be over pronating on her running gait. This could cause the force to travel up the calf. Meaning the outside of the calf is having to work significantly harder than the other half. The same rule applies to supination of the foot

Whereas Steve who is an avid trail runner, may not be too bothered about his positioning of his feet, but the unevenness of the terrain he runs will naturally be firing up different parts of his gastrocnemius and soleus to keep him stable when running.

Track runner Sam is doing 100m reps which is recruiting his fast twitch fibres, will require his calves to fire super-fast simultaneously.

The point is that it is a case by case basis, one person’s calf tightness can be completely different to someone else.

How massage can help calf tightness

It is very self-explanatory. If you calves are tight then massage can just release it with a pushing motion, very simple right?

Here are the main talking points you need to know about

Circulation

Circulation in bold

Circulation but in italic

That is literally all you are doing, any kind of benefits you see on therapists Facebook page, it leads to the movement of blood around the muscle. If you are breaking down scar tissue. Circulation improved. If you are relaxing the muscle. Circulation improved. If you are just getting a post race massage on the calves. Improved circulation. You can view the events I have done here.

Take home message

There are many reasons why a muscle can be tight, you can get your muscles treated as many times as you want, but the important thing to establish as an athlete is why your muscles get tight and addressing them problems first, rather than chucking money at some guy to beat you up for 45 mins!

And that ladies and gents, is my 2 cents on calf tightness. Over and out!

Ben is a Sports Massage Therapist based in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. He has vast experience working with elite athletes including working as a Soft Tissue Therapist for Doncaster Rugby League and several Team GB athletes. Say book in with him by clicking here

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