Got this “painful” message from a fan of the column who wants to know what to do next:
“Paul – I was doing the Tees Pride 10K run on Sunday morning just gone when suddenly my calf popped, and it felt like I’d been “shot”. There was no prior warning or stiffness. I hobbled though the last 2.5K and still managed a “pb” of 47:43. Can you advise the best course of treatment?!!”
– Thanks. Nick, 41 From Hartlepool.
Okay… let me try and talk you through this and I’ll do it in the context of explaining how and why it likely happened, so that you can try and avoid it:
The “phenomenon” of feeling like you’ve been “shot” in the back of the leg is something that I hear a lot – and it’s the big give away for me that the person telling me has actually pulled a calf muscle – and quite badly, too.
A lot like hamstring muscles, calf’s tear or snap with very little prior warning and will often happen as a result of being overly tired, dehydrated or from running up (and down) a route which includes a few hills or banks.
I note Nick’s age too. “41” is ripe old age to begin to suffer these kinds of out ‘of the blue’ problems and I’d bet without even seeing Nick that he has had, in the past, some kind of problems with a stiff or aching Achilles tendon.
Maybe not enough to cause any concern or even limit exercise, but just a sign like feeling extra tight on a morning or late at night, that something isn’t quite right down there.
And what’s happening is this: the Achilles and calf are connected. So, if one of them tightens, so too the other. And if you keep pulling at one of those muscles, eventually it will tighten to the point that it is forced to snap! And that’s what happens when the muscle pop occurs – reality is, they’ve just torn a muscle.
I’ve written about ankle and foot type injuries a few times recently – and I’ve done so on purpose because it’s this time of year that I see most of them due to the extra running people do in summer on the hard surfaces combing to add extra stress and tension to things like Achilles and calf muscles – causing them to tear.
So, to answer the big question of what to do about it:
Well, ice is a good place to start.
For the first three or days I’d say: “ice it” and “keep off it”. That means no running and limit walking. Go swimming if you want to keep active.
After that, it’s important to get lots of deep tissue massage to stop something called scar tissue – and if you don’t, it makes it more likely that you’ll tear the same muscles again because scar tissue is very tight and inflexible. Controlled stretching routines are important (after about 7-10 days) and from then on it’s more massage, more stretching and after about 14 days or so, start strengthening of the calf muscle too.
My big tip on this: Do not rush back too soon. Rarely will a true calf strain heal SAFELY, any quicker than 3-4 weeks. And if you want to know more about the exact steps you need to take, please look here: www.paulgoughphysio.com/sports-injury-clinic there is a free report waiting for you with all my best “do this, but don’t do that” tips on how to get fit quick after any of the common sports or muscle injuries.
This Article was written by Paul and published in the Northern Echo Newspaper 2nd Sept, 2014.
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