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I am a newbie runner. Been running off and on for the past two months. L
The past two days I have had an ache in my left upper calf muscle - feels like when you have had a bad cramp and the muscle i pulled.
When sitting still it is noticeable.
I just finished jog/running 6.4 today and I noticed near the end of the workout I could feel the ache every time I made a stride.
Is this anything to worry about?
I wouldn't stress over it, but you need to take care of the problem before it morphs into a full-blown injury. The upper calf includes the highly visible gastroc(nemius) muscle, which rapidly plantarflexes the foot when the leg is straight (as in jumping or stairclimbing), but a portion of the larger and more powerful soleus is underneath, which is used more by runners. Underneath the soleus are three long toe flexor/plantarflexor muscles, which can can cramp, get hard, and cause pain.
Any of these muscles can bother experienced runners when they overdo it, but a newbie can expect growing pains as they adjust to your new athletic lifestyle. I recommend regular self-massage and stretching (in that order) for these overworked muscles, especially during this important time of training, adjustment, and growth.
The first massages to the area should be with soap and water or lotion, and not too deep (yet), to explore the leg for tight muscles. The first stretches should be done by simply dorsiflexing (pointing foot and toes upward) the foot under its own power. This is done to make use of the Law of Reciprocal Inhibition, which normally causes the plantarflexor muscles to relax while dorsiflexion is active. This is different from most stretching formats in that respect and the least likely to cause injury through eccentric contraction. It will also help to isolate a stiff muscle (in partial contraction) that refuses to release, singling it out for trigger point therapy ("ischemic" compression of tight spots in the muscle to force them to relax).
When you work these points, remember that you are starving the muscle of oxygen in that area (ischemia), so you need not hold the pressure longer than necessary to force a release of tension. Too much too long can damage the muscle, while too little will have no effect. When they are released and relaxed, they need to be rested and nourished before reintroducing the stress that caused them to seize up. This may take anywhere from minutes for simple tightness, to weeks for advanced healing of damaged tissue (microtears), or months for severe damage.
Good maintenance for the new runner also includes the use of ice to control inflammation, compression with tape or other devices to contain swelling if it occurs, and elevation of the legs to reduce blood pressure in the affected limb(s). Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation are known collectively as the R.I.C.E. protocol for injuries in the acute stage. After a while, heat, massage, stretching, strengthening, and muscular re-education are more helpful to fully rehab the injury.
Wow. Thanks for all of the good information.
Just an update today ...
My legs were sore today, generally the outsides of my calfs near the knee caps.
Calf itself seemed fine.
I went for a very easy jog this evening, jogged 2 miles in about 21 mins.
Calf feels fine today. Might have been that I just sat out for 3 days in a row.
What are your recommendations regarding stretching? Before or after a run? How much? How often?
I have mostly been stretching after I run. Have been doing a moderat pace 2-3 tenths of a mile walk for the warmup and cooldown.
Thanks again for the information.
If you stretch before a run, it's best to do it after your warmup. I have found that the more years people have been running, the longer a warmup they need to loosen up. Personally, my legs feel best after about seven miles (but it used to be much shorter). Of course, one of the reasons for stretching is to help with this process, so you may need to experiment for a while to find what's best for you (which may vary from day to day). Try to "listen" to your muscles.
Meanwhile, here are some suggestions:
Stretching is usually most effective after a run, when the muscles are warm. However, your muscles may be less sensitive at this time, so be careful not to overdo it.
If your run was at a hard pace, it might be a better idea to wait until there is less danger of spasm or cramping that could resist the stretch, possibly causing damage.
This gets a little more complicated if you ice after the run, which may be a higher priority than stretching at that time. Elevation (legs up) may be more important, too.
In your particular case, you have mentioned the upper calf near the kneecaps, which is where the Gastrocnemius muscle crosses the joint. Many people tone these muscles up with straight-leg calf raises, jumping, etc. It is important to note that the leg must also be straight (knees locked) in order to effectively stretch the Gastroc. To isolate the Soleus underneath (which does not cross the joint), the knee should be flexed during the stretch.
Bear in mind that a painful stretch anytime may do more harm than good. The purpose of a stretch is to prevent injury, but stretching can cause injury when performed inappropriately. If there are knots in the muscles, it is more effective to rub them out than to try to stretch them, which can be done later when you've had a chance to assess things. Stretching is important, but only one of several ways to condition your muscles.You will learn to set priorities.
If in doubt, the unassisted stretch to the calf (described above) is the safest option.