One of the most common ailments that affect runners is the calf injury. About a year ago I was in a mini race (1 mile) – I was going fine and suddenly I felt as though somone kicked me in the back of the leg.
God I thought – that's me out for the rest of the week. Little did I know that I was out of action for about 4 months, and it took me 6 months to get my times back to where they were pre-injury. Each time I tried to run on it, I was left with an aching leg for days.
If you suffer from a similar injury – despair not – I found something to work for me!
I did a lot of internet-diagnosis on the injury and a load of trial and error and have the following calf-injury rules of thumb:
- Stretch gently. A calf injury is actually a set of micro-tears in your muscle. When something is torn, the last thing you should be doing is stretching it hard. This is just tearing things more, and forming inflexible scar tiissue that is easy to tear again in the future. So just stretch to comfortable levels – just to where you can feel resistance, don't push against the resistance.
- Start all runs slowly. Jog gently, or even walk for a few minutes before you start running. The kenyans do it this way, and it works for them! They call it "letting the run come to you"
- Stay off your toes. If you read up on running, you can often get lots of advice on correct running posture. You hear stories about Pose running, Chi running, etc. Though there are probably advantages to thinking about how you are running, not many people can just change their style without injuring themselves, so be very careful about adjusting your stride. Many of these styles advocate running on your toes or the ball of you foot which puts tremendous strain on your calf muscles. If you are recovering from a calf injury it is advisable to run a little flat footed, landing on the middle of your foot which puts less stress on your calf. Also, take shorter strides which is equally a less-stressful way to run.
- Massage the calf daily. This is the most important tip, and the one that worked for me. In fact, this helps me greatly with my achilles tendonitis (a subject I will write about when I figure out definitively how to get rid of it!!). The technique is simple. Place one leg over the other, or hang your leg down so that the calf muscle is completely relaxed. Push your thumb firmly into the calf near the top of your achilles and rub upwards through the calf muscle. Repeat this movement 30 times – you will find that the muscle is getting warm (and hairs are getting removed from your leg!!). You need to repeat this 3 times – once before you run, once after and once at night before you go to bed. This stimulates blood flow in the area and helps the calf to heal. I found this tip in the article reprinted below (I reprinted it in case the original is ever removed).
So there it is – the answer to you calf trouble? Well maybe not, but it's worth a shot!
This is the original article from betterbodz.com:
Oh, My aching calves
My calve injuries must have been God's way of showing me that somewhere along the way, I messed up. These were my most secretive feelings for many years. I shared them with no one, for no one could understand the emotional distress associated with chronic calf injuries.
After 15 years as a sportsmedicine specialist in which I'd treated hundreds of runners with various running. I finally was introduced to a solution to my calf problems. If tightness, soreness, slow recovery, or muscle pulls is also your albatross in life, you may want to read this.
The calf is one of the most used muscle groups in the runner. Along with the hamstring, calf problems afflict almost all runners at one time or another. The role the calf plays in the running gait makes it highly vulnerable to tightness, stiffness, tendinitis, and chronic pulls. To the runner who suffers from this syndrome, running can become a not-so-favorite pastime laced long periods of injury and frustration.
Calf problems are usually due to micro-traumas that occur with every run. A typical muscle that is exercised multiple times a week is injured on the microscopic level with every workout. These micro-injuries require to heal. As the muscle is used and the microtraumas occur, an inherit tightening or contracture takes place.
This is the body's attempt to protect the muscle to allow the necessary time for recovery. The downside of this is built in protective mechanisms that there is a reduced blood flow to the muscle, this reduced blood flow furthers the contracture or tightening.
This cycle usually leads to injury or chronic tightness and stiffness that limit a runner with regard to mileage and hard workouts. AS soon as the muscle tightness is mildly improved, most runners feel the need to get back out on the road or track as quickly as possible. This is taking a muscle that is just starting to recover and asking it to perform when it is not capable of doing so and the cycle continues.
The tightening that occurs with constant running has to be addressed on a daily basis in an effort to resolve this problem. While most sportsmendicine specialist and coaches recommend a detailed stretching program, stretching alone will not solve this condition.
The primary problem is that the internal pressure of the muscle is so great (due to the tightening/protective mechanism of the body) that new blood, which is vital for reparation and recovery, cannot enter the muscle. External pressure, greater than the protective internal muscular pressure, has to be applied to the calf muscles in an effort to relax the muscle and encourage a copious, nutrient-rich blood flow necessary for proper food and oxygen to the muscle.
There are three options with regard to employing the necessary treatment to the calves to combat tightness, stiffness, and injuries. The first is to use your thumbs in applying an upward stroke to the calves, starting just above the Achilles up to the back of the knee. The key is to get into calves with enough pressure to help relax the muscle and encourage blood flow into the muscle. The runner should apply 20-30 strokes on both calves.
The second option is to work with a fellow runner and apply the necessary treatment to each other. This is certainly easier, however, another partner is not always available. The final option is to use a tool that allows runners to treat themselves, such as The Stick®. This provides the necessary treatment, is extremely easy to employ, and can be done in 30-45 seconds.
In order to succeed with this approach, muscles must be treated multiple times per day. The treatment cannot become time consuming, since none of us have the time for a lengthy treatment. Again, the treatment could be done in as little as 30-45 seconds.
The most important time for application is just prior to going out for a run, with the second most important being after a run. Ideally, five to six treatments per day will begin to provide the necessary influx of new blood to the damaged, tightened muscle. This will expedite the repair and relaxation process that will allow the calf muscle to undergo the stresses of running without the residual buildup of waste products, toxins, and tightening that is all part of the normal cycle of muscular use and repair.
It is critical to have the muscle in a totally relaxed state while treating it. When sitting down, life the thigh off the floor with the foot free hanging. Let the toe point downward. This will allow the calf muscle to be relaxed. This position is also possible when laying down. When standing put the foot on a stool or chair and make sure the knee is behind the heel instead of ahead of the toe. This will allow for maximum relaxation when applying pressure.
Finally, treatment should not only be done when pain, tightness, or injury is present. This treatment should become a habit for all runners, since calf problems are truly in epidemic proportions. The calf undergoes excessive stress and recovery support with this treatment will provide the insurance you need to stay on the road instead of injured list.
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