About 10 years ago, I suffered what was diagnosed as a mild calf strain which prevented me from running, though walking was fine after a few days. I ended up taking a month of from running, but it reappeared again after a few days of slow running and would continue this pattern even after I took several months off, then started again. It originally came on without warning or without strenuous running....it just appeared within a few steps of slow jogging and I had to totally stop running. It feels like I was kicked hard in the soft, center part of the back of the calf muscle. Okay, well I ended up taking several years off from running and got back into it a year or so ago and hadn't had any unusual issues until a month ago, when the calf issue reappeared without warning during the first mile of a slow run. I limped back and thought "here we go again - end of running for a while." As long as the advice for a a calf strain is accurate, I have followed it and tested it out a few days ago and it reappeared again, starting the clock for recovery once again. I have no problem walking 5 or 10 miles and I don't even feel it, but I know it will come back if I start to run or jog. Does this sound like a calf strain/tear to anyone who has experienced something similar ? It is very frustrating because I was getting good at all my distances and managed to qualify for the 2011 Boston Marathon, but now this has occured. I am planning to take off from running until January 1, then test it slowly. I am just looking for advice from other runners who have experienced something similar. Many thanks to anyone who replies.
I did sprain my calf a few years ago. But I took 7 weeks off and came back with no problem. It's strange to have it come back after such a long time off, unless you were pushing too hard or just got unlucky. I have seen one article which seems to have helped several people. Maybe it will help you too - link below.
Len, thank you tremendously for the article. It is exactly what I am experiencing and I'll implement the plan it outlines. This just comes on without warning and stops me in my tracks, hence the aptly named "calf heart attack" title. I have a "Stick" and probably don't use it enough. In the past, I've been told that I have very tight calf muscles, so I need to commit to doing a lot more vigorous stretching than I currently do and maybe I'll still get to Boston next year. Again, thanks!
While the Stick may help maintain your calf muscles, and the manufacturer is aware of the power of massage, there are times when more focused pressure is more appropriate. Muscles with injured portions that result in mini-spasms (aka "trigger points," referred to in the article as "knots" around micro-tears) can be very persistent as you have found, and often cannot be rested away, even lasting a lifetime in extreme cases. In fact, trigger points have been photographed in fresh cadavers.. It's hard to get more relaxed than that, yo.
Consistently rolling over a trigger point with a stick or foam roller may bring results in easier cases, but for a persistent trigger point you need more focused pressure. It may "laugh" at anything less, even get worse from the irritation. At the very least you may waste precious time. Sit in a chair and prop your leg up where you can easily get to the rear calf with your thumbs. Probe the entire length of the layers of muscle here for sensitive spots, some of which can be invisibly small, comprised of only a few mutinous fibers. It is here that focused pressure, delivered in a series of short, few-second applications, can bring near-instant relief to trigger points. On the other hand, spreading the pressure over a broad area with a roller can de-fang your approach. Deep points need deeper pressure, or they will not be deactivated. I know because I work on them for a living.
The longer trigger points have persisted, the more likely they are to return, which is why you want to repeat this treatment a few times a day for the days, weeks, or months it may take to re-educate your neuromuscular system. Just as old habits are hard to break, ingrained patterns of pain and discomfort are a well-worn pathway of neuromuscular discomfort that is frequently revisited until your persistence has banished it to history. Damage to the muscle in question is not always the cause. Sometimes they are due to damage in a neighboring muscle that has shifted the workload next door.
When you've taken care of the more acute problem(s), by all means return to the tool of choice for general flushing and circulatory maintenance - but if you must roll, please roll in the direction of the heart to protect your veins and lymphatic system, which are fitted with one-way valves for this purpose. Otherwise, you risk damage to both. I've seen entirely too many people use the Stick in this improper way, and the sales lit, all manuals and articles of reference should always mention this, but don't (it should be embossed on the tool itself). I use my own soaped hands in the shower for the same purpose, with more definition and control, not to mention portability. I own a Stick, which has been gathering dust in my living room for nearly 10 years. I find it too hard for comfort, and too flat and blunt for detail work on curved and multi-faceted muscles. Though there are knobbier versions that improve the experience, I wouldn't risk a Boston Qualifier for it no way, no how, or I might be using one professionally to rest my thumbs.
Here's a tool that lets you strip away and view the layers of muscle...
James, Thank you for all the detail. I will take your advise and use my thumbs to work on the deep trigger points. That raises another question, as far as identifying the "trigger points." Should I assume that any spot that I feel or roll the Stick over that feels tender or "un-smooth" (almost like feeling a small knot) is a trigger point that should be focused on ? I don't want to over-do it with either the Stick or just using my thumbs and cause any damage, so I need to figure out a plan or a daily routine (how many reps/ how many sets/how many times each day or every other day, etc). The only problem I have is with my calf, so I will focus on those. I have also heard (if it's true) that you can use a golf ball to work on the deeper tissue. I'm not sure I can trust my thumbs yet to get the job done. I did about 9 miles of running for a few minutes (very slow), then walking about the same number of minutes and experienced no problems with the calf. Any additional thoughts you have are appreciated. Steve
You will find that more permanent objects like subcutaneous cysts, varicosities, etc. tend to stay put, while a rrigger point is a spontaneous phenomenon that tends to move around. It may even disappear as you press on it, which of course is your goal. They tend to occur at familiar locations, though, which correspond to points in the muscle that are more vulnerable or closer to motor nerve entry. I liken them to circuit breakers that occasionally trip and need to be reset. Otrher things to look out for are arteries, which throb, and nerves, which may produce a more painfully electrical sensation.
A trigger point will often hurt but feel the need for more pressure. They are more active electrically than surrounding tissue and can be detected by sensitive equipment and visualized by specialized MRAs. Once deactivated, they should reappear with decreasing frequency if you handle them promptly, unless there is a biomechanical or environmental issue that continues to irritate the host muscle.
Although tools like tennis balls, golf balls, Sticks, etc. seem safer at first, you will eventually become more comfortable with your thumbs because of the tactile feedback and level of control. Frequency of application depends on how much the area is bothering you, but prophylactic treatment would begin with once a day. I work my calves/achilles area with soaped fingers in every morning shower. If something is really bothering me I will get on it as frequently as I feel the need, but rarely more than 3-5 times a day. A session of trigger-pointing an area seldom takes longer than a minute or two, and most serious problems become manageable within a few days to a few weeks if not immediately. In rare cases a few months are required, especially after years of dysfunction.
I am not surprised you calf has quieted down, but you now have another tool in your kit to make sure it stays that way, even after your level of training increases. Good luck with your running!