The training is going well; the legs are feeling strong and the running miles are adding up.
That is until those calf muscles decide that they need a bit of a break!
Calf strain doesn't have to be severe for it to stop you in your tracks; but it can certainly put a halt to your training.
When you run your calf muscles work incredibly hard. They provide the 'springiness' to your movements; they allow for mobility of the ankle; they help you to maintain your balance and they act as shock absorbers as you pound the pavements. It's no wonder that they sometimes feel a bit stressed!
The two main calf muscles known to runners are the soleus and the gastrocnemius.
Your gastrocnemius muscles originate from your femur (thigh bone) and inserts into the heel bone (calcaneous) via the achilles tendon. These muscles are the 'wobbly' ones when they are relaxed.
The soleus is the deeper of the calf muscles - it originates from the back of the tibia and the fibula and also inserts into the calcaneous via the achilles tendon.
So where does it hurt?
If you are a forefoot runner, your soleus is where you are susceptible to injury. Cramp, pain or a tear to the muscle is often a result of overuse. If you have increased your mileage too quickly, this is the muscle that likes to let you know!
It can be strengthened with heel raises and heel drops during general training but if injured, wait until the pain and inflammation has reduced before you start loading the muscle. Allow time for the muscle to repair itself with scar tissue and make sure that you lengthen and stretch to regain motion first.
The gastrocnemius tends to get knotted! Again, muscle tears occur when you pick up the pace or if you include explosive intervals in your training. The pain in the muscle belly can hurt when you walk or when you rise up onto your toes.
What can you do when you know that you have hurt you calf?
* Rest it - Don't carry on running if it has stopped you in your tracks. It doesn't need complete rest, but further strain could mean it takes longer to heal. You might find that it loosens up as you make the miserable walk home. But it needs rest and recovery rather than pushing through the pain.
* Ice it - As soon as you can to reduce the pain and the swelling.
* Compress it - To assist with the reduction of swelling. This is when those compression socks really come in handy.
* Elevate it - To drain excess fluid to the injury. Stick it up on the end of the sofa and have a brew.
This is the first phase of rehab for soft tissue injuries. After 24 hours and depending on the severity/ grade of the injury, mobility should start to return.
During the second phase, it's important to aim to increase the range of motion and lengthen the calf muscles by stretching, foam rolling and massage. You need to focus on the whole leg, gluteals and lower back to stretch. The aim of foam rolling and massage is to re-mould the scar tissue to prevent it becoming clumpy.
When you are ready to return to training, make sure you are progressive in your rehabilitation. Rebuild strength and listen to your body. Consider cross-training and return to running with a day-to-day reassessment.
Every injury is different. If you are unsure about your pain, seek advice and guidance from a professional.