If you’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer from reoccurring calf strains then you’ve come to the right place! I had a 1 year battle with calf issues before I finally solved the issue. I researched the topic for probably a month before I finally decided on my method of attack.
The first thing you must do is seek medical attention if you have a severe strain!!! The first step in this process is REST, I’ll say it again REST! The first time I strained my calf I tried taking a week or two off thinking that would solve the issue. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I STRONGLY suggest 2-3 months depending on the severity of your strain. While taking a few months off you need to do everything within your power to minimize the stress you place on your calf. If you’re on your feet during the day or do a lot of walking during your work hours or commute I would urge you to purchase a pair of supportive insoles. I work in corporate America so I’m in dress the majority of the time – these are HELL on your legs. I ended up buying a pair of Dr. Scholls massaging/supportive insoles and they’ve made a HUGE difference (check them out here: http://amzn.to/22nKwFa).
So you’ve managed to get 2-3 months of rest in, what next? Now it’s time to begin strengthening and stretching your calf. During the first 2 weeks or so simply begin with calf raises while sanding on a flat surface paired with light stretching of the gastrocnemius and the soleus. There’s a million different products out there to help with calf stretching, feel free to look around here: http://amzn.to/1Ws3xme – I’ve always been a fan of foot/ankle/calf rockers. Rockers are simple productions and can usually be picked up for $15-$50. When you come to weeks 3-4 it’s time to start with calf raises with your heel hanging off an edge so we can get a full range of motion. I recommend aiming for 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps every other day or so. Make sure you’re pairing this with stretching (I recommend becoming familiar with the downward facing dog pose).
The next step in the process is moving into dynamic activities. When doing this you should continue to do your strengthening and stretching exercises (you should also start doing weighted calf raises around this time). My transition into dynamic activities started with walk/jogging intervals on the treadmill. I’d do an eighth of a mile at a light jog (3.5-4mph) and move to a quarter mile walk (2.5-3mph) then back to the light jog. I’d do these intervals for 15-20 minutes 3 times a week. As you begin to feel more comfortable with the jogging slowly transition into longer distances of jogging paired with shorter walking intervals(DON’T RUSH INTO IT). During this time I recommend you incorporate some sort of LIGHT agility training. I recommend picking up a jump rope and knocking out 5-10 minute sessions with it a few times a week.
So you’re now running a mile or two at a time on the treadmill and you’re sick of the jump rope – what’s next? You need to SLOWLY introduce your calf to more and more explosive activities until you’re fully comfortable. One of my favorite activities is pick-up basketball. I started off by going to the gym and working on the shots I’d normally take in a game and also worked on basketball specific movements (back pedaling, jumping, quick change of directions, etc.). Once I was comfortable with the sport specific movements I decided it was time to get back out there and attended a pick-up bball session. I made sure to incorporate a THOROUGH warmup paired with multiple breaks to rest and stretch my calf. I’m now going on 8 months of strain-free basketball/running! I continue to stretch/strengthen my calfs and I’m constantly using my foam roller all-over my legs. Also, if you haven’t done so already I strongly recommend you pickup a pair of neoprene calf sleeves. Calf sleeves add support to your calf muscle and also help keep it warm. I use a pair of McDavid calf sleeves and I love them (http://amzn.to/1QZvvUX).
In short – the key is rest, stretch, strengthen, and slowly work your way back into your sport/activity of choice. The second you try to rush back is when you’re going to be sent right back to square one. Take your time, enjoy the process, and you’ll put an end to calf strains!
- If you’re an athlete you should STRONGLY consider taking up yoga – hot yoga if you’re feeling brave.
- I made the mistake of trying out a yoga sculpt class – I’m a good sized-guy (6’2 245lbs.) and have been powerlifting for the last few years – yoga sculpt was a humbling 60 minutes … NEVER AGAIN!
- Don’t be afraid to cut a running, lifting, etc. session short. If things are feeling off there’s no shame in calling it a day – don’t be a hero.
- Muscle imbalances can cause problems – start foam rolling (pick one of these up from Amazon for less than $20 http://amzn.to/1WsWbPz ) along with additional soft-tissue work. If you aren’t doing so already look to incorporate some sort of strength-training into your weekly routine.
- Recovering from a calf strain isn’t sexy, it takes LOTS of time and research. Don’t rush it!
- Go easy on the NSAID’s during your recovery