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Pain in Calf Muscles – Cause and Treatments

Pain in your calf muscles is a common injury for athletes.  Whether you are running, cycling, or swimming, your calf muscles contract to lift your heel up and point your toes down.

Let’s explore the calf muscles that cause pain.  I’ll explain why they hurt and how they can cause serious problems to your Achilles tendon, ankle, and foot.

The Primary Cause of Pain in Calf Muscles:

 

The two largest of the muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus, form the shape of the calf.  Both muscles merge into the Achilles tendon.  If you are standing when those muscles contract it causes the heel to lift up from the floor.  If you are not standing when the muscles contract, like when you swimming or even lying in bed, the contraction causes your toes to point.

These two muscles are the primary cause of excruciating pain when you have a calf cramp.

Since the gastrocnemius and soleus are used with every step taken, it is easy for these two muscles to become repetitively strained and therefore go into spasm (form tiny knots in muscle fibers).

A Note For Runners:   Runners who stay on their toes enhance the strain on the both muscles.  The motion of toe-running doesn’t allow you to reverse the movement (ie: keeping your leg straight, picking up the front of your foot, and pressing down with your heel).  The muscles shorten to allow you to take the first step, and then you hold the muscles contracted for many miles.

At the end of the run you may try to stretch your calf muscles to relieve the pain.  However, since spasms have formed in the muscle fibers when you stretch without first releasing the spasms you frequently cause the muscle fibers to overstretch on either side of the knot/spasm and tiny tears are created in the muscle.

A Note For Swimmers:  Swimmers often complain about calf cramping and calf pain.  The nature of competitive swimming has you forcefully pointing your toes, a repetitive strain injury that shortens muscle fibers.  As you push off from the wall, the muscle needs to lengthen but they are too tight to fully lengthen which places a strain on the fibers each time you turn and ultimately the muscles begin to tear.

A Note for Cyclists:  Cycling is the least likely of the triathlete sports to cause pain in the calf muscles, but if you are a triathlete you may feel pain as you ride and push your heel down to get power and speed.

Two More Muscles That Can Cause Pain in Calf Muscles:

 

While not considered a calf muscle, runners and swimmers can strain two muscles called flexor hallicus longus and flexor digitorum longus (slide to #11 on linked graphic to see both muscles).  The flexor hallicus longus inserts into the big toe and flexor digitorum longus inserts into the bottom of the four toes.

When these muscles contract it causes toes to point (swimming) or it causes a pushing down on the pavement to gain speed (running).  When these muscles are in spasm you can feel pain underneath your Achilles tendon and in the lower third of your calf.

Preventing Injury:

 

To prevent injury to your Achilles tendon and foot and to relieve calf pain it is important to release muscle spasms (also called muscle knots and trigger points) after you have had an extensive workout session!  Our Focused Flexibility Training system shows you step-by-step how to quickly and easily release all of the spasms that cause pain in your calf muscles – and how to safely stretch your calf muscles!

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