Calf pain and/or tightness is a very common complaint in runners. While we might be familiar with the concept of a sudden onset calf strain or calf tear, a gradually building ache in the calf with running can be a more confusing proposition.
It was previously thought this pain was from a build up of pressure from the increased blood flow through the calf during exercise. However, recent research has found limited correlation between increased pressure in the calf with exertion and those suffering this kind of pain. It is now believed that the process behind this pain is similar to other overuse injuries. That is, the calf is placed under slightly more load that what it can comfortably deal with and so it becomes painful. The body may respond to this pain by inhibiting (sending less motor signals to) the muscle, which may cause it to become weaker and therefore even less able to deal with load.
Like with other overuse injuries, rest from exercise will likely make the pain better without making the condition itself better. A better management strategy would be to undergo a rehab program designed to address the causes and to gradually progress exposure to load.
This type of calf pain also has similar causes to other overuse injuries. These causes relate to either increasing the load on the calf (for example increasing training volume, increasing running speed, introducing hills) or to a reduced ability of the calf to accommodate load (for example increased age, previous calf injury, fatigue, poor sleep etc).
Treatment for this condition may include strengthening of the calf muscles, taping to help unload the calf muscles, improving range of motion in the ankle and/or knee, strengthening the quads, hamstrings and/or glutes, altering running technique and managing training loads.
Especially with runs like the City to Surf and the Perth Running Festival approaching, it's important to manage this calf pain effectively, rather than simply ignore and push through the pain, or to rest and hope it will improve on its own.
If you need help with calf pain, or any other running-related pain, come see our physiotherapist in Aubin Grove today!