Remedies for Leg Pain

Running can be an excellent way to stay fit, but it’s also one that is likely to leave you aching. At least 50% of regular runners experience some sort of running-related pain or injury each year. One of the most common complaints? Calf pain. 

Maybe you’ve noticed your calves feel tight, throbbing or strained during or after your runs recently. If so, the good news is that you don’t have to live with calf pain, and you don’t have to give up your running hobby, either. 

Whether you're a seasoned runner or a beginner, understanding the reasons behind calf pain during running is essential for prevention and management. Read on to learn why you may be experiencing calf pain during or after your runs, as well as some helpful tips and techniques to keep pain at bay and optimize your running performance.

Causes of Calf Pain When Running

If your daily or weekly run is leaving you with crippling calf cramps, there could be something more than the typical DOMS to blame. Calf pain is a common issue for runners, and usually stems from one or more of the following causes: 

  1. Muscle Fatigue
    The calf muscles, including the gastrocnemius and soleus, work extensively during running. When these muscles become fatigued due to inadequate rest or overexertion, they can lead to pain and discomfort.

  2. Muscle Strain
    Overloading the calf muscles or sudden changes in intensity, such as increasing mileage or speed too quickly, can lead to muscle strains. These strains occur when the muscle fibers are stretched or torn, causing localized pain and tenderness.

  3. Poor Running Form
    Running with an improper form, such as overstriding or landing heavily on your heels, is common. Unfortunately, poor form puts excessive stress on the calf muscles which then leads to muscle imbalances, fatigue and lasting pain.

  4. Inadequate Warm-up or Stretching
    Are you slacking on your warm-ups and hitting the road or treadmill on cold muscles? Insufficient warm-up exercises or neglecting to stretch the calf muscles before running is one of the most common causes of sore or strained calves.

  5. Dehydration
    Your muscles need plenty of water to function properly. When you’re dehydrated, this can lead to calf pain while running due to electrolyte imbalances, reduced blood flow to the calf muscles, impaired muscle function, increased risk of heat-related conditions and slow post-run recovery – all of which can leave your calves aching.

  6. Achilles Tendinitis
    Running puts excessive stress on the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. This repetitive stress commonly leads to inflammation and micro-tears in the tendon and presents as calf pain during running.

Calf Pain Causes: A TCM Perspective

Along with the sports medicine-based causes of calf pain while running, Traditional Chinese Medicine has its own perspective on why our calves struggle to put the miles in. 

  1. Qi and Blood Stagnation
    According to TCM, we feel pain when there is stagnation or blockage of Qi and blood flow in the body. When running, Qi and blood stagnation should be flowing smoothly through our meridians, which are connected to various sinew channels and muscle groups. If there is stagnation present in the meridians associated with the calves (such as the Liver and Spleen meridians), it can result in calf pain.

  2. Yin and Blood Deficiency
    Yin represents the nourishing, cooling and lubricating aspects of the body in TCM, such as joint fluids. Blood is also considered a yin substance, and specifically nourishes the muscles and tendons. When there is a deficiency of Yin or blood (usually due to excessive heat, overexertion, lack of rest or a constitutional imbalance) it can lead to muscle soreness, cramping and calf pain while running.

  3. External Pathogenic Factors
    According to TCM, external factors such as wind, cold or dampness can invade the body and affect the flow of Qi and blood. If these factors accumulate in the calf area, they can lead to pain and discomfort during running. This is common for those who exercise outdoors in extreme temperatures, or particularly windy or rainy areas.

How to Reduce and Prevent Calf Pain for Runners

A “no pain no gain” mentality may help you reach higher goals in some sports, but when it comes to running, pushing through pain can lead to serious injuries. Instead, take a more balanced approach and practice good running self-care with these tips: 

  1. Take a gradual approach to training.
    Slow and steady is the key to healthy calves and better runs. Avoid sudden increases in mileage or intensity, which can stress the muscles and slow your progress. Instead, gradually build up your running routine to allow your calf muscles to adapt and strengthen over time.

  2. Spend more time warming up and stretching.
    Even the most high-performance machines need warming up to work properly. Spend time doing dynamic warm-up exercises, especially ones that target the calf muscles, to get your blood flowing and warm up your muscles. Then practice static stretches that focus on the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. When it’s time to run, maintain a slow recovery pace for at least 5 minutes before shifting into high gear.

  3. Build power with strengthening exercises.
    Exercises that specifically target the calf muscles will help improve your endurance and reduce the likelihood of pain during running. Calf raises and heel drops are particularly useful, and you can even do them on the go, while waiting in line at the store or while brushing your teeth.

  4. Use topical herbs for self-care and recovery.
    After running, post-workout recovery is essential. While many athletes turn to ice to alleviate pain and soreness, ice can actually slow blood flow – and therefore the healing process – which can lead to more pain. Instead, opt for “herbal ice.”

    Plum Dragon’s Herbal Ice is a cooling and anti-inflammatory tincture that can be used to relieve pain like ice, without reducing circulation through the calves.

    While Herbal Ice is best for acute calf pain, Ho Family Dit Da Jow is more suited to lingering or chronic pain while running. This balanced formula helps to relieve soreness in the muscles, tendons and joints, while also rebuilding your strength and power.

    Along with using topical muscle rubs and tinctures, try elevating your legs to improve blood flow, or use foam rollers or massage balls to release tension and promote muscle recovery.

Run Faster and Longer – Without the Pain

When calf pain is stalling your progress or slowing you down, it’s time to take a step back and find the root of the problem. Running can be comfortable and enjoyable, with correct form, smart warm-ups and proper recovery care. Use these tips and the power of herbal medicine to stop calf pain and run your best with every stride.

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