What Do Sore, Tight Calves Mean?

What Do Sore, Tight Calves Mean?

Sore, Tight Calves- Causes and Treatment

Calf pain is a common occurrence for athletes, especially in the older runner. Patients may often describe their calves as ‘tight’ or ‘stiff’, and may / may not have previous history of a calf injury.

A common presentation to Darwin Podiatry is when the patient describes a tightness that develops with prolonged running, and often gets wore with continued running. In order to reduce the ‘tightness’ the patient will often need to stop and stretch in an attempt to continue running. Often, symptoms may linger for a couple of days after a run. Therefore, the cycle continues – run, stretch, foam roll, repeat.

Let us have a quick look at the anatomy before understanding why the calves may get sore. There are two major muscles at the back of the leg- the outer calf (gastrocnemius) and inner calf (soleus). The Gastrocnemius has two parts that attaches to the back of the thigh bone (femur), whilst the Soleus attaches to the back of the shin bone (tibia). Both of the muscles share a connection point to the heel via the thick Achilles tendon.

The Soleus is a very good muscle for endurance events, especially running, in part due to its large surface area, and high percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers. The Soleus has different roles to perform when running; shock absorber, stabilizer and spring. All of these functions make the Soleus especially vulnerable to fatigue!



So, calf ‘tightness’ may be due to muscular fatigue and / or cellular damage to the Soleus muscle. There are only a two ways to reduce the tightness that you are experiencing in your calves; reduce the load (i.e. run less, alter running technique, change footwear), or improve the capacity (i.e. get stronger). On top of that, there needs to be adequate recovery (i.e. sleep, nutrition and hydration)

To strengthen the calf complex, for the soleus, bend the knee to at least 30 degrees. A strength program will usually need to be 12 weeks in duration and performed 2-4 times per week. The exercises below are great for improving soleus strength;

  • Calf sit with hold: 5 sets of 15-60 seconds

  • Seated heel raise (heavy weight): 2-4 sets of 8-15 repetitions

  • Bulgarian Split Squat with heel raise (video below): 3 x AMRAP


So, if you find yourself experiencing tight calves, try reducing your weekly running volume for a few weeks and allow yourself to increase the strength of your Soleus muscles. Reduce the urge to suddenly up your volume to allow adaptation over time. Would you like more advice, or further assessment? We encourage you to call our rooms and make an appointment with our experienced team of Podiatrists.

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