Walking is supposed to be great exercise, isn’t it? So what does it mean when I experience calf pain while walking, and what can I do about it?
Why Does Calf Pain Happen?
Calf pain happens due to overuse, twisting the wrong way, or trauma involving the calf. Assuming you have not injured it due to any type of accident, calf pain from exercise is often a strain or pull.
Calf Strain or Pull
A calf strain is muscle soreness in the calf. There are three muscles in the calf region that you can strain. It is fairly easy to realize and identify a strain to the Gastrocnemius, which is the upper calf. Someone with a gastrocnemius strain will feel pain, tightness and overall soreness to the back of the leg or calf.
A strain to the soleus, which is much lower on the calf, is a little more difficult to identify. However, the symptoms are similar.
Treatments for Calf Strains
- Rest/Time Off of Exercise:
- Rest is an important and fairly easy way to heal a muscle. One problem, however, is that people who really enjoy getting a workout into their day often struggle with this. This is one reason why it’s important to have multiple outlets to relieve stress. Hopefully, a calf strain can improve with minimal time off.
- A simple google search will yield many different stretches one can do in order to help a strained calf. According to Self magazine, there are five basic stretches everyone should know and do for strong, happy, healthy calves. (More on that later in the blog.)
- Physical Therapy
- If you try to rest, stretching, foam rolling and ice, and your calf does not improve, sometimes some personalized physical therapy is in order. Physical therapists specialize in diagnosing problems and finding solutions.
- Holistic Health Specialists
- Some communities are fortunate enough to have joint strength and stability centers where trained specialists can assist you without a trip to a physician.
- Foam Rolling
- Many people find using a foam roller to be therapeutic to injuries and to assist in injury prevention. I believe a foam roller is a sound investment for any active person.
Prevention Through Strength Training
If you are unfamiliar with these strength training techniques, I would encourage you to go beyond a simple google search. One visit to a holistic sports medicine clinic, a physical therapist, or even a local personal trainer can go a long way with very little out of the pocket expense.
- Drive Back with Bands
- Donkey Kicks with Bands
- Single-Leg Bridge
- Walk on Toes with Hand Weights in Hands at Side
- Eccentric Calf Raises
- Plyometric jump squat
Prevention Through Stretching
There are many stretches a person can do in order to prevent calf cramps or pain from occurring. Sadly, many people are only vigilant about stretching during or right after an injury. Making stretches a normal part of our routine would go a long way toward overall health.
- Downward Dog
- Seated Calf Stretch with Resistance Band
- Lunging Calf Stretch
- Heel Drop Stretch
- Standing, Bent Over Calf Stretch
Dehydration as a Cause of Cramps
Dehydration can be a cause of calf cramps. Prior to thinking “injury” I often ask myself if I am drinking enough water. If the cramps not only occur during exercise but also return at night, a little extra sodium in your diet can help alleviate this. Since I follow a fairly low sodium diet, I sometimes get calf cramps during exercise and when lying in bed. I have found a high-quality salt tablet helps ward off this problem.
Choose Your Footwear Wisely
Women in particular experience calf pain and discomfort due to poor footwear choices. Shoes with heels, for example, often lead to calf pain. I certainly would not suggest that women permanently forego high heeled shoes; however, alternating types of footwear can prove helpful.
Shoes with inadequate support can also lead to calf pain, that transcends into activities like walking or running. Try not to wear flat shoes like flip flops or flat-soled sandals too often. Support and arch support lead to better foot and lower leg health.
Anyone who plans to walk regularly should invest in a quality pair of walking shoes.
A good pair of walking shoes will help prevent injuries, including calf cramps. Remember to always shoe shop later in the day when your foot is more likely to be swollen and to bring socks as you would wear for walking along with you.
Consider if you pronate or supinate when walking or running so you can choose the correct type of shoe for your foot.
If you have a high arch, consider purchasing a gel insert to provide adequate support. Inserts come in many different types and degrees of “softness.” Take your time while choosing what feels right to you!
Walking shoes are made for the specific body mechanics of walking. When walking, your body weight starts with the heel strike as the back of your foot hits the ground. As you propel forward, the foot flexes considerably and the foot “rolls” completely, hitting mid-foot and forefoot. Your second foot then hits the ground, also at the heel.
In walking, one foot is always in contact with the ground and there are moments when both feet are touching the ground (as opposed to running when a perfectly timed photograph will capture a person appearing to be airborne).
Walking shoes are flexible but also tend to be heavier. They are usually made of a more sturdy material than a running shoe.
It used to be that a person replaced a pair of shoes when they looked worn out. Now, conventional wisdom dictates that we track mileage on our shoes and replace them more often than that. Most sources advise us to replace our shoes every 400-500 miles. After that, they are good for yard work or seated activities.
The long and short of it is if you experience calf pain while walking, running, or engaging in other activities, there are things you can do to stop the problem. In addition, there are preventative measures you can take to, hopefully, ward off this issue.