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Breaking the injury cycle: Calf Tear in a Runner

Posted on 3rd November 2017 by

We were recently asked some advice from a regular recreational runner. It’s a story that we hear a lot of here at goPhysio (not always calf related, but the same principles apply), so we thought it warranted a little blog post!

The runner in question was concerned, as they’d picked up a calf injury when out for a run a few weeks previously. Nothing major, but felt a bit of a tug on the calf when they had to move suddenly during the run. The calf was painful, so they did what they thought they should and rested for a week from running. The calf then felt fine, so they went back to running. Since then, the calf pain comes and goes. They don’t only feel it when they try and run but can feel it driving, going up & down stairs and first thing in the morning.

The dilemma is……….what is the best thing to do? Carry on running (because they love it and it they were progressing so well!)? Stop running (because it’s making the injury potentially worse)? Exercise? Ice? Heat? Strapping? New trainers? Taping? See their GP? Have a sports massage? Ask a friend? Use a foam roller????????? So many questions?

This is a really common story that we hear a lot in physio. A simple calf tear should take 3-6 weeks to repair itself, however its easy to get stuck in a cycle of tear, rest, repair, tear again, making the recovery much longer and much more frustrating.

How do we break this cycle?

Whilst rest is important it is not enough to adequately repair our damaged muscle to take the strain of running again, which is why it keeps being re-irritated. If we continue to do this we cause a lot of scar tissue to form in the healing muscle. Scar tissue is neither as strong nor as flexible as normal muscle fibres which make it easy to re-tear when stressed by anything more than day to day activities.

In the early stages of recovery from an injury, relative rest is important to help with healing. What that means is avoiding any activity which aggravates the injury, but trying to do alternative activities or modified activities so that you aren’t resting totally.

However, the important thing is to rehabilitate the calf muscle during the ‘rest’ period – gently stressing it with progressive strengthening exercises and stretches to regain its normal strength and elasticity. Ready to run again!

Physiotherapists are experts at guiding you through this process, making sure you are exercising at the optimal level for your stage of healing. They will make sure you are doing the right exercises (technique, loading, reps etc. all carefully worked out) and that you progress them at the right stage – all tailored to you individually and your own goals.

A programme for a minor calf tear for an ultra marathon runner would look very different to a programme for a severe tear in a Saturday morning Park Runner. There isn’t a one size fits all approach and although ‘Dr Google’ or Joe Bloggs at running club who also had a calf injury can be useful resources, relying on such information won’t always give the best long term outcome!

In addition to a specific exercise programme, Physio’s can also carry out a range of other treatments such as hands-on therapy, ultrasound and taping which can help to speed up your recovery. They an also advise on treatments you can do at home, such as foam rolling. A crucial part of your recovery is obviously returning to running at the right time. We know taking time out of running can be very frustrating, so we limit this as much as possible, guiding you with your return programme so you don’t do too much too soon and risk re-injury. If you have a specific event or race coming up, this is factored in.

So, if you love running and are worried about a calf injury, don’t hang about, book in to see an expert to guide you out of the injury cycle and back to running!

Here are two great simple exercises for a calf tear

Calf raise exercise Heel raises – standing on both feet, slowly rise up onto your tip toes then lower back to the ground. If you can manage 20 or more of these try doing it just on the injured leg, holding onto a support for a little balance, remember slow and controlled is key!


Calf stretch – stand in a long stride position with the injured Calf stretch exercise leg behind. Bend the front knee and gently press the back heel down towards the ground until you feel a stretch in your calf. Take it to where you feel a mild to moderate stretch (but not pain!) then hold for 30secs.


More information

Treatment of calf pain in runners

Top Pilates exercises for runners

Top tips for injured runners

Get your running back on track

How to warm up for running 

 


Treatment of Calf Pain in Runners

Posted on 11th August 2017 by

Calf pain for runners is common complaint. Your calf muscles are used extensively and repeatedly during running, so it’s no surprise that sometimes they can become overloaded and develop pain. Here’s a great infographic from Tom Goom from the PhysioEdge series of podcasts, that highlights the recommendations for the treatment of calf pain.

So, what does it mean for you if you’re a runner with calf pain?

  1. Exercise Therapy is a crucial part of the treatment of calf pain. Exercises should be specifically targeted to increase your calf’s capacity for the demands of running. There are some great examples below. Your Physio would be able to identify exactly where any weakness may lie and subsequently advise on the most effective exercises for you. It may not only be your calf muscles that are weak, muscles around your hip and knee support the work of the calves during running, so strengthening these muscles is crucial too. Pilates is great for this! And don’t forget your feet. Working on the static strength of the muscles in your feet that bend your toes can help your running technique.
  2. Neural Mobility is how well your nerves ‘slide’ or move in your body. We all know that our joints and muscles move and stretch but our nerves also have to be able to move freely. When they don’t, this itself can cause pain and restricted flexibility. Reduced neural mobility may not be local to your calf, it could be originating from a more central source (your back/spine). Your Physio would be able to identify whether you have reduced neural mobility and advise on the best exercises to improve neural mobility. It may be that some manual therapy would help too.
  3. Training Loads, so distance, time, speed, terrain, will all have an impact on calf pain. Our aim is to always try and keep you running wherever we can (always keeps runners happy!). So, we offer customised advice in modifying your load to keep you running whilst your calf pain is addressed. This is not always possible though and there are cases where resting from running and doing some specific rehabilitation is essential to your recovery.
  4. Gait Retraining can have a massive impact on recovery and prevention of calf pain. Your running technique and style can improve your efficiency of your running and reduce demands on the structures involved in running. Here at goPhysio we offer a specialist Running Rehab service, where a biomechanical and video running analysis is carried out to guide any beneficial changes to your running technique. Small adjustments to technique can often have a massive impact on your running.

Treatment of calf pain in runners

The trap many runners fall into when they get calf pain is to stop running, rest completely until their pain is gone and then go straight back to their normal running routine. Then they’re frustrated when the pain comes back again and they repeat the cycle. When you pick up an injury, particularly an overuse injury like calf pain, it is crucial to identify and address the cause to prevent the potential long term cycle of injury.

Read More

What’s physiotherapy got do with a dripping tap? Overuse injuries explained.

Top 6 Pilates Exercises for Runners

Top Tips for Injured Runners

Running Rehab Service