Sometimes, calf strain can be confused for cramps, especially when it is not a very severe case, but there is a main difference between the two.
Cramps are involuntary contractions in the muscles that are only momentary that can be settled by stretching them whereas a calf strain is much more painful and can leave you immobilized for days or even weeks.
Taking into consideration how painful calf strains can be, are you still able to run with one?
What Is A Calf Strain?
There are nine muscles that make up the calf and when one of them is overstretched or torn, it causes a calf strain.
It may develop slowly over time or very suddenly and even normal activities such as climbing stairs, walking, or running becomes impossible after suffering from a calf strain.
The severity of a calf strain is categorized using four grades.
Grade one is where there are a few mild tears or stretches in a few of the muscle fibers. The muscle will still be very tender and painful, but it will still be able to perform with its original strength.
Grade two calf strain is when the stretch and tears are more severe which makes the muscle more tender and more painful. You will find that there is much less strength in the leg and limping is common when walking.
Grade three will see the tear and stretch is even more severe with the muscle usually being torn completely.
Bruising on the skin will also be visible with the movement of the leg being very difficult with lots of pain when you try to put weight on the affected leg.
The bruising in the more severe cases of a calf strain is caused by the torn muscle bleeding that can spread around the foot.
Swelling can be triggered within a few hours after the injury and the whole area will become very stiff and painful.
Can I Run With A Calf Strain?
If the calf strain that you are suffering from is either grade two or three, you will find it impossible to run. Even walking will be very painful, so running will only make the pain even worse.
If you find that the pain is not bad enough to stop you from running, you will do yourself more harm than good because you are preventing the muscles from repairing themselves.
However, if you are confident that you can still walk around with little to no pain, it may help with your recovery to walk around a bit to help strengthen the muscle.
You should only start running again once you can walk without any pain at all because if you run too early, not only will your injury last much longer, but you are putting yourself at risk of causing further more serious injuries.
Calf Strain Recovery
To help recover from your calf strain, it is very beneficial to ice the area for about 20 minutes every hour for the first 24 hours since the start of the pain.
You can also try compression to the area by using calf pantyhose or compression socks which can be worn all through the night.
Resting is one of the most important things to do in order to recover from this injury, but once you feel you can walk with no pain, trying some gentle exercises such as seated and standing calf raises will help.
After you have reached the stage where you can walk and stretch with no pain, you can try to do a bit of light jogging.
You must start slowly though so that you can test how your calf muscle feels and if it feels good, pick up the pace and run for longer periods.
In some severe cases, physical therapy may be the best thing for rebuilding the strength back in the muscle.
Preventing Calf Strain
Once your calf has completely recovered, and you are itching to get back to running regularly, you are probably a bit worried about it happening again because of how painful and inconvenient it was.
Here are some ways that you can prevent this from happening again, but keep in mind that you are not guaranteed to never suffer from it again but by making these changes, you will decrease the likelihood dramatically.
Warm Up Before Exercise
One of the most common reasons why calf strain happens is because there wasn’t enough warming up done before exercise.
It is important to warm up because it helps to get the blood flowing to the muscles which makes them relaxed and able to put up with the strain that comes with exercise.
Cool Down After Exercise
As essential as warming up before exercise is, cooling down after exercise is just as critical.
Cooling down keeps the muscles nice and flexible and since a lot of blood has been going to your muscles during exercise, it can make them stiff and sore when you suddenly stop exercising.
It’s not unheard of for people to over-rotate their feet when they run which puts added stress onto the feet and ankles as well as the legs and back.
By wearing insoles in your shoes, your posture will be corrected, and your calf muscles are less likely to be strained and torn.
You can also get insoles that are made to absorb the impact in the heel to prevent shock from feeding up through your legs.
Regular massages will help to keep your muscles relaxed and flexible which makes them much less prone to being injured.
If you have experienced a particularly nasty calf strain then you likely have some scar tissue.
Compared to normal tissue, scar tissue is less flexible and will be more at risk of injuries and massages will break down this scar tissue.
Long story short, you should not run with a calf strain even if you feel that it is not that painful as the fact that there is still a bit of pain means that running will only make it worse and can lead to an even more serious injury.
If you have a calf strain then you must rest, apply ice, compression, gentle stretches, and possibly physical therapy is how you will recover fully from it.