Calf Pain in Runners

Calf pain after an acute tear is common and somewhat expected. However, a lot of runners have calf pain without a history of trauma to the calf itself. For these runners the key is determining the cause, and implementing strategies to reduce their pain and prevent it coming back. That’s where physiotherapy can help.  

Runners with non-traumatic calf pain typically have a pattern of pain that gradually develops during a run and worsens as they continue. Runners commonly complain of calf tightness, burning and sometimes stabbing pain, that usually stops them continuing to run or at their desired speed. After the runner stops the pain subsides a little, but their calf may feel tight and sore for a day or two after. Typically, if they stop running symptoms can disappear completely.  

There are many potential diagnoses for calf pain which a physiotherapist can determine. These include compartment syndrome and neural fatigue/tension (commonly referred to as sciatica); however, the most common reason can simply be calf muscle fatigue. Some calves may not have the strength and endurance to cope with the amount of running the person is doing and/or the runner is overloading the calf too quickly before it can get use to the load its being placed under. An example of this is when a runner increases their distance too quickly (2km to 10km within a week), or changes their program to include things such as hill running or sprinting.   

There can be a cumulative effect to exercise/running that can be quite subtle. If you run regularly you might be accustomed to running on heavy, tired legs and you can be unaware how fatigued your muscles are becoming. You may be surprised that you cannot perform many single leg calf raises, but can still run long distances.  

How a Physiotherapist help with calf pain? 

  1. Identify the cause of pain (provide diagnosis).  
  2. Provide answers and education about running load and strategies to increase speed and distance. 
  3. Your physiotherapist will work with our Exercise Physiology team to implement strategies and prescribe exercises to help you run faster, further and more efficiently.  
  4. Provide strategies to significantly reduce to recurrence of pain.  

If you are a runner experiencing issues with your calf muscles, then it is best to get an early assessment before the problem becomes worse. Our Physiotherapists at Physiotas can help you as described above. All you need to do to book an appointment at any of our six clinics is to call 6424 7511. We look forward to hearing from you.  

About the Author: 

Nathan Philip is a Physiotherapist at Physiotas in Launceston.

Nathan relocated back to Tasmania after completing a Master of Physiotherapy degree at the University of South Australia. Nathan also has a Bachelor of Exercise Science degree from the University of Tasmania, where he gained a wealth of experience in exercise prescription and technique.

Nathan is a current committee member of the Sports Physiotherapy Australia group and is also an associate member of the Australian Hand Therapy Association.

Nathan began his professional career by working at Cricket Tasmania as an elite strength and conditioning coach. Nathan is the current North Launceston Football Clubs head physio and has also worked with state level rugby teams as well as the North Melbourne AFLW team.

Nathan works full time at the Launceston clinic. His interest areas are neck pain, headaches, jaw pain, sporting leg injuries and hand/wrist injuries.

Outside of work Nathan enjoys playing cricket, watching local sport and he is also a keen surfer.