A very common running injury is a calf strain or a tear. We have two main calf muscles, Gastrocnemius and Soleus, which are under repetitive load when we run. There are two reasons for this, the first one is to absorb the shock of our body weight during landing, and the second is to help move us forward into our next stride.
When we run, we take on average 937 strides per km. Obviously any weakness in the calf complex, or elsewhere in your lower limb or pelvis, will affect your running technique. Any muscle imbalance in your kinetic chain (above and below the calf) will lead to an increased load on the calf and predispose you to injury, strain or tear.
Just as your calf is designed to absorb shock and propel us forwards, the muscles above and below the calf are stabilising muscles. These are responsible for keeping the ankle, knee and hip joints stable during movement, so that your calf can carry out its main function. However, if your muscles aren’t up to the job they were designed for, particularly at the foot and ankle complex, the calf will begin to try and take on a stabilizing role. It isn’t designed to do this so it gets overworked or injured. A common example is over pronation of your foot (rolling inwards) or weak gluteal muscles causing excessive inward rotation of the knee.
A lack of a warm-up session is often a reason why many of us sustain calf injuries. The warmer the muscle, the more elastic it becomes. As we get older, there becomes a decrease in elasticity towards our tendons and muscles, causing an increase risk in calf strains for those more senior to running. Warming down after a run with calf stretches helps maintain the elasticity in your calf muscles.
Don’t forget that dehydration affects your muscle function by reducing blood flow to your muscles and decreasing muscle elasticity, flexibility and endurance. So stay hydrated.
Properly fitted footwear that isn’t worn out and provides adequate cushioning is also an important factor to consider when avoiding calf strain. Calf compression socks or long skins can also assist with keeping muscles warm and increasing circulation.
What to do if you have calf strain or tear?
Initially, the Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (R.I.C.E) principal should be followed. Book an appointment with a Physiotherapist for assessment and treatment of your injury so we can start your individual rehabilitation programme. We may refer you to have a scan of your injured calf muscle if we suspect a grade 2 or 3 strain.
Approximate timescales for rest are;
3 weeks for a Grade 1 strain
4-6 weeks for a Grade 2 strain
Grade 3 tears will most likely require surgery followed by a 12-week rehabilitation programme.
As with any injury, it is very important to avoid secondary injuries that occur through compensatory movement patterns. These may have become a habit during the injured period. All the more reason to get self assessed early to avoid this from occurring.
The rehabilitation period is also a good opportunity to target those areas that often get ignored in our weekly training routines. Core stability and gluteal muscles are a great place to focus on when running activity is restricted. At Saanichton Physiotherapy and Sports clinic our Physiotherapists will design a programme to suit your individual needs.
Research conducted has found that the stronger these muscles are, the more likely you will gain a successful outcome in not only injury recovery, injury prevention, but also importantly your performance.