Calf tightness is a very common complaint in runners and is often a recurrent issue. After stretching the calves or releasing them with massage, a trigger ball or foam roller, they may still feel tight, which can be very frustrating. A common reason this occurs is when runners spend a large amount of time trying to release tight muscles, when this time may be better spent focusing on strengthening them.
It may be hard to believe, but tight calves are usually weak. Studies have found that a high level of strength, and associated endurance, in the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles will prevent recurrent tightness.
Some other factors that can contribute to recurrent calf tightness:
- Running technique: low cadence (amount of steps per minute) can lead to over-striding, and a greater impact force onto the lower limbs on landing/foot strike. An ideal cadence is said to be about 180 beats per minute. Running at the correct cadence will lead to your foot landing closer to your body’s centre of gravity. The focus should be on faster, shorter steps.
- Foot and ankle mobility and conditioning: decreased ankle and foot mobility and foot muscle strength will lead to poor push-off or forward propulsion, reduced shock absorption and greater impact loading. The calves will have to work harder to compensate for this.
- Decreased strength in the hip muscles and core: it is important to evaluate any deficiencies in the rest of the kinetic chain that could increase the stress on your calf muscles when you run. Decreased strength in your gluteal muscles and hamstrings, which are necessary for hip extension and help propel you off the ground, will cause you to rely more on your calves for forward propulsion. Good core control and pelvic stability are important for efficient activation of the gluteal and other lower limb muscles.
Effective management of recurrent calf tightness must include exercises to address the above factors, and not just focus on stretching and releasing the calf muscles.
The physiotherapists at The Body Refinery will assess your gait and running technique (Runity), to help determine the cause of your recurrent calf tightness. They will then develop a comprehensive rehab program to address the underlying factors and optimise your function and performance. Book a session with Aga or Kristen by calling 07 3358 3915.
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Written by Agnieszka Biniek