Calf Injuries….The Cause May be Higher Up Than Your Lower Leg

Wednesday, 4 December 2013  |  Admin

Calf Injuries….The Cause May be Higher Up Than Your Lower Leg

Calf strains often occur shortly after changes in training such as an increase in distance or speed, the introduction of hill runs, a change of runners, a sudden change in your running style, or not enough recovery time between runs. These types of strains can easily be associated by the athlete to one of the factors above and often resolve after some foam rolling, massage, some rest, and a gradual and sensible return to training.

However some calf pain occurs due to muscular imbalances in the hip or back or reduced ankle flexibility. This can cause the calf to work harder when running which after a while lead to tears and pain in the calf. In these cases the athlete can’t attribute the pain to a defined cause or reason and will complain of calf pain or tightness that isn’t resolving despite treatment to the calf and rest.

When running the calf contracts to lift the heel and propels your weight on to the front of the foot. The ankle needs to be flexible to allow this movement in the foot from where all your weight is on your mid foot to where it is on the toes as you propel forward. Your hamstrings then contract to draw the lower leg and foot towards the buttocks, while the hip flexors contract to swing the leg forward to get ready to strike the ground again. Together they help clear the foot from the ground. If there is a problem such as reduced flexibility or strength in these muscles, the foot may not clear the ground as effectively as normal and this may require the calfs to push off harder from the toes to help with ground clearance.

Ankle flexibility

A previous ankle sprain or stiffness in the shin or calf can be the cause of reduced ankle flexibility. This can impact both the foot landing (whether you are a heel striker or mid foot striker) and the toe off portion of the gait. If the ability of the ankle to plantar flex (the movement where the toes point towards the ground) is reduced there will be greater requirement on the calf, hamstring, hip flexor and other leg muscles to work on this leg. In addition, there is often compensation through non injured side to carry the injured leg through the run.

Leg Stability

Weakness in the gluteal muscles can affect leg stability. When leg stability is reduced it can lead to additional movement at the knee and ankle joints (pronation or supination) which cause some of the calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and soleus) to work harder than others. This tendency towards pronation or supination it can be why some people complain of tightness on the inside of the calf and others of pain or tightness in the outside of the calf.

Injury Prevention

In all cases an assessment of hip, leg and ankle flexibility, strength and stability is required to get to the root cause of the problem and to start an exercise programme to resolve the issue. Many triathlete’s bodies will be tired after a season of racing and often will show weakness in hip and gluteal area, so now is the time to work on preventing injury during racing season. A review of over 25 research trials with 26,610 participants published this year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that strength and stability training reduced sport injuries to less than one third, and overuse injuries by almost a half. With this in mind use the winter season to strengthen up the body focusing on gluteal strength, core work, and leg stability exercises and prepare for an injury free racing season in the Spring.

About the Author

Karen Doyle is a Physical Therapist based in Booterstown Co Dublin. Her favourite sports are hill running and rock climbing. Karen worked and travelled with the National Track Cycling Squad at World Cup Events from 2008-2012. Currently working in the Maple Clinic,she can be contacted on 01-5441225



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