Calf Tightness When Running

Calf tightness when running is a problem I come across a lot, in varying degrees. For Calf musclessome people, the calf muscles simply feel a bit tight the day after a long or hard run. For others, the tension affects them when running and can be so severe that the aching pain causes them to stop. But what causes it when there has been no previous injury?

 

 

Causes
Tight calf muscles tends to be most common amongst relatively new runners. This gives us a few clues already. It can be linked to a number of problems which can affect those new to the sport:

  • A lack of flexibility in general
  • Fatigued calf muscles
  • Inappropriate footwear
  • Wearing high heels daily
  • Running too much, too soon
  • Inadequate warm-up / cool-down
  • Muscle imbalances elsewhere
  • Running form

Lets start at the beginning.

Reduced flexibility

Some people are just naturally less flexible than others. Especially those that have been relatively sedentary up until they start running. But the good news is that a lack of flexibility can be addressed with a comprehensive stretching program. Now, this doesn’t mean stretching before and after running. This means stretching at least 3 times a day, if not more, to really see an increase in flexibility. So, if you’re new to running and suffering with tight calf muscles, this is your first course of action. Stretch, stretch, stretch!

Gastrocnemius step stretch for calf tightnessStretching the Soleus

 

 

 

 

Fatigue

If your calves feel like they cramp up when running, but are then fine after, it could be fatigue that’s causing your problem. Just like when you see football matches go into extra time and all the players get cramp in their hamstrings because they are not used to that amount of stress. The same can be said for the calf muscles. The more you run the stronger your calves become, but in the meantime, try some strengthening exercises – single leg calf raises are great and require no equipment.

Inappropriate footwear

If you haven’t had a gait analysis – get one done! If you don’t know what this is, check out my page on gait analysis! It will basically ensure that you are wearing the right running shoes for your foot type. The most common problem in runners is overpronation. Tight calf muscles and overpronation often go hand in hand, so make sure you get this checked and corrected if necessary.

Also consider your day-to-day footwear choices. Wearing high heels on a regular basis can actually shorten the calf muscles too.

Training errors

Some more newbie training mistakes can also cause tight calf muscles. Running too much, too soon can do it as your muscles tighten up in response to the increased stress that they are not accustomed to.  Also, ensure you warm-up before running with a pulse raiser that doesn’t stress the calf muscles – such as cycling or stepping. You can also stretch your calf muscles before running, although research indicates that static stretching before exercise is not effective at reducing injury rates. But it’s really down to personal preference and I still stretch my calf and glute muscles before running as I know these are my problem areas! Do make sure you finish your run with a walk for 5 minutes and then a thorough stretching session, as this is where stretching really comes into its own to reduce post exercise soreness.

Muscle imbalances

Muscle imbalances are responsible for so many running injuries and having tight calf muscles whilst running is no exception. Everyone is different and so it is hard to tell you what may be affecting your particular case, but a really common pattern to look out for is tight hip flexors, leading to weak or mis-firing glutes. This results in a lack of hip extension when running and a bigger reliance on the calf muscles for propulsion. Remember, we’re like one big chain – so where the pain is isn’t necessarily where the problem is! A sports injury therapist should be able to assess you for muscle imbalances and determine what may be affecting you.

Form

Running form is basically the way you run and it is something that we don’t tend to think about when running, especially when we first start out. We just run however feels natural to us. However, your running form could play a big part in your calf muscle tightness and pain.

I personally suffered with exactly this problem. Stretching my calf muscles regularly really helped, but it didn’t cure the problem. But what I have since found to work, is changing the way that I run.

Barefoot running is increasing in popularity and its many advocates say that it reduces injury rates amongst runners and it promotes a more natural running pattern, which modern running shoes have altered.

In today’s cushioned shoes, most of us have evolved to run with a heel strike – that is the heel hits the ground first. But before running shoes, this would have been painful and so our predecessors ran with a more mid-foot strike.

Whilst I didn’t go the whole hog and start running barefoot, I have adapted the way that I run to land more on my mid and forefoot than on my heel….and hey presto! No calf pain or tightness!

Running with a mid foot strike alters the biomechanics of your running cycle, shortens your stride length and changes the loading on your calf muscles, as well as reducing the impact through the foot and lower leg. It is important however, to avoid landing on just the forefoot alone as this will increase the load on the calf muscles and achilles. If you run entirely on your toes this could actually further increase calf tightness! Try to imagine landing with the foot flat on the ground. In the majority of people this results in the impact being on the midfoot and then the heel. Also bear in mind that this is different for your body and so as with anything new, you need to build up slowly. Again you may experience some increased calf aching initially.

150 thoughts on “Calf Tightness When Running

  1. I have recently had a left knee reconstruction for a snapped ACL. My left glute/guad/hamstring have shrunk as a result and I am working in the gym a lot doing squats, lunges, leg press etc.
    I have been running three times a week between 3-5km depending on how my knee feels.
    Since I have recently started going to the gym I have noticed a gradual building of tightness in the opposite calf (right) and have had to stop my last couple of runs short due to pain and concern of a muscle spasm. I suppose it has to do with muscle inbalance, gait, etc but any advice would be appreciated. I know I have the correct footwear and I suppose I could stretch more. I was thinking of taking magnesium/bananas and poweraid which used to stop calf cramps when practicing jiu-jitsu. I just want my knee to be like it was and get back to 100% fitness, running with no pain etc
    Thanks Lee

    Like

  2. Hi,

    I am a referee in rugby league
    I have had 3 years off and have just returned 4 weeks ago.
    I had to give up my centre referee spot last Sunday as both calves were so sore/tight.
    I have been drinking plenty of water the last 3 weeks and have cut fatty and sugar foods out of my diet.
    Last night I went down the oval and done some basic running and straight away I felt it again, this stopped me from being able to sprint at my fast pace.
    I did notice its my lower calves then goes down towards my Achilles.
    Could you please advise what this could be and if there is a quick fix as I have an important game this weekend

    Thanks 🙂

    Like

  3. My calves and even feet are sore but only after resting. It also goes away after a minute or so of walking. Any advice?

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  4. I have recently had surgery to remove vericose veins from my right calf. Even before this, I was experiencing extremely tight calf muscles (main the right one) for years. I can do all exercises with no problem, except running. My calfs keep on getting tight, and in the worst cases if I don’t stop it will go into spasm and then I’ll be out of exercise for weeks. I have had MRI’s done, seen a sports therapist, tried all sorts of stretching and resistance training, but still I have the same problem I had before my surgery. I need to get this sorted so I can get back into running properly. Do you have any advice?

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    1. Hi
      If you suffer from tight calves when running then obviously your calves are overworking when you run. Their job is to propel you forwards when you push off. However they are not the only muscles which should be helping you move forwards! The most likely reason for your calves overworking is a weakness or inhibition in the glutes, or perhaps an issue with your running pattern which means you can’t use your glutes sufficiently.

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  5. Hi there, I have been running now for about 10 weeks, gradually increasing the distance, and have recently had a calf problem where my calf tightens up after a couple kms but not severe enough to stop running. At a recent event the same thing happened, however after about 8 kms my right calf tightened up to the point where I could not continue running. A person that was running behind me noticed that I flick my right leg out a bit when I run and suggested that I had a weak ankle tendon and that it would be wise to strap my ankle to avoid further injury. If this is the problem would strapping the ankle help or is there something else I could do to avoid this injury?

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  6. I recently strained or pulled my right calves. I rested it for several weeks. But now everytime I run, especially play basketball, it tightens up real bad. What’s wrong with it?

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  7. Hi,
    I ran for the first time ever yesterday, but I used to dance so I understand the concept of warm up and cooling down correctly. I even made sure to look up proper running form and the proper ways to warm up and cool down. I took it really slow and ran a 15:00 mile with run and walk alternating. My calves were pretty sore after I finished, and this morning I can barely walk! Did I strain them or are they just tight?

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  8. Thanks so much this goin on 2 years I’ve tried everything so ill follow this

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  9. Hello I’ve been running 2 miles a day and this is my second day I’m 15 and a bigger guy and I’ve been experiencing cramps in only my right lower calve and was wondering why anything helps thanks guys.

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  10. Hi, I am an avid runner and have been running for a number of years. I recently started to experience pain in my left calf (only) mid-run. The pain can last for a day or two depending on the length and frequency of this week’s runs. Some days are better then others. I am in the midst of training for a half marathon now. I am certain the pain is due to imbalance/weakness in my right hip flexor.

    My question is – what is my best approach to reducing/eliminating the pain? Should I focus on stretching/massaging the calf? Focus on the hip strengthening/stretching??

    I would like to finish out this training cycle and be able to run the half pain free…but right now it is not looking so good 😦

    Thanks in advance!!

    Like

  11. Hi I have been run twice a week(Monday to Thursday) not that far around 3mile each time
    But i am getting really bad pain in my lower legs the back normal(calfs) to the point I Carnt walk and the stairs is impossible!
    I have just got new trainers because some one said it could of been that

    And ideas

    Like

  12. Hi

    I start out running say on Sunday and do about 5 miles, then on Monday I laboured through 3 miles. The run was painful from almost after the first mile.
    By the time I’m done I’m practically limping
    My symptoms are
    I feel gripping ” jolts of shooting pain along the side of my calf and will continue for the next 3 or 4 days after I’ve stopped running.
    My legs will also ache.
    I’m at a loss as to what it is
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated

    Like

  13. Michael Mc fadden 11th Feb 2016 — 7:47 pm

    I get a sharp pain in my calf when I seem to go at a faster pace like a stabbing pain. Anyone experience this and have a remedy

    Like

  14. I have been going to the gym for a while at least every other day , using this calf machine and track began since last week and recently my calfs are killing me. I’m a sprinter and when sprinting I am tiring out quicker and being a lot slower than usual. Also I take adderall for ADD which makes me eat less but I drink a lot of water.. Can I still run? Or what can I do to make it better? Ice, heat pads ?

    Like

  15. I have never felt this my calves felt like they were swollen when running and I stretch before and after how can I fix this.

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    1. I was having problems with calf muscle tightness while running. insoles have fixed the problem.. get some they works

      Like

  16. This page has been SUPER helpful to me! Thank you so much for this. I ran my first 5K today, and I have some pretty tight calves, but mostly just the left. I think my injured right two smallest toes (ran them into a door jamb when lights were out walking to the bathroom) have made me over-compensate on the other foot/leg. I also see the real need to go to a local running shop and have a gait analysis done. Oh yeah, and I’m a “heel striker,” too. Ouch. 😦 But I really want to keep this up. I’m 56, and just started running two months ago (C25K app training) to get in shape, and just be more active. I love the motivation runner folks give me, too. Other than my calves, I have no shin, knee or foot issues. Thanks so much!

    Like

  17. I started at the gym about 10 weeks ago I couldn’t run for more than 1 min but little by little every day running a little more after 4 weeks I was running 3k in 25 mins then I started to have pain in my lower leg I now struggle to run more than a few mins at a time. I started going back to basic run a min walk a min after 8 min im in a lot of pain have to stop. Ive never had a injury in my leg..

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  18. Hi, I’m not sure if a problem like this has been answered, but a few days ago my calves felt really tight following a long run. After I walked around a bit it felt 90% better. Now, everytime I sit for a while my calves really tighten up, but after about a min or two of walking the tightness subsides almost completely. Any idea what may be causing this and what I should do about it?

    Like

  19. I’ve been running for a couple of years now. I’ve just started sound a spin class once a week to shake things up. Now all of a sudden I get a burning pain in my calves when I run. What do you think could be the problem?

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  20. Hi, I went for a walk along a canal and I started to jog and build up into a run. I stopped as it got hot and my legs ached but I didn’t take any notice. A few hours after my right calf started tightening and I am unable to put it on my bed or on a pillow or on my chair as it hurts to have it touch anything and I haven’t had any previous injury nor are my legs unbalanced. It’s now 4:20 am and I still can’t put my leg up to go to sleep. What should I do and what is it?

    Like

  21. I tend to have calf pain more on the right side. If I try to push through it and not stop I notice that my toes become numb. What is that?

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  22. It’s where my calves and outside of my knee meets. That’s where my pain is

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  23. How do you fix it

    Like

  24. Hi I’m a 42 year old female and I have extremely large calf muscles for female. I used to run track back in Junior high school and high school years and my calves always tighten up so badly that they feel as if they’re going to burst open. It doesn’t matter how long I stretch I can’t exercise or walk without going 50 feet without my calf’so hurt extremely badly. what could be the cause ?

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  25. Discomfort is the left 3 & 4 toes. After a short period of running, a pain in the calf (left) which seems to go away after continued running then a burning discomfort in the ball of the foot? Please help!

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  26. Hi, I am a marathoner, I have been running long distances for almost 3 years now, but recently I’m suffering of really bad calf problems. The pain in discomfort last between 2 to 4 days. What can I do to avoid this. I haven’t change anything when it comes in posture while running show wear .

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  27. I’ve been running for 30 plus years now and recently (10 weeks plus) have pain in both calves on the inside of my legs. Running hasn’t really changed and the shoes are the same. It started with aches when running and now is aching after running as well. Ibuprofen helps but should I rest for a while or run through the pain with anti-inflammatories?

    Like

  28. Hi,

    I have had calf pain now for over 2/3 years when running. Often it’s fine for a few runs then becomes sore when running on my third or fourth run. I’ve been to see a physio and he gave me leg raises and stretches to do. I had done these for over a month but saw no improvement, even after taking a good month of rest. I would find my calves (lower part of calf muscle) get sore when running again. I can continue to run on them but it is uncomfortable. What would you suggest I do?

    Like

  29. Hi, for nearly 2 years I’ve had problems in 1 and sometimes 2 calves!! I have ran and been very much into my sport since an early age…in 34 now! I stretch and ice them after runs and can do 2 runs then they flare up to the point where I struggle to walk then they feel absolutely fine. I leave it for a couple of days, go for a run then it really hurts again. I’ve tried resting for weeks and months and as soon as I start running again it flares up. I’ve had blood tests done which are fine and even gone back to basics of walk/run. I’ve ran for years and never had any issues with my calves! Can anyone help? I’m desperate now as Drs say everything is fine!

    Like

  30. Santosh Johal 4th Jan 2017 — 7:29 am

    I I have been running for years and the last 16 months I have been suffering with calf pain. Every time I start my run I have to stop after about 500 metres be because the pain builds up in the calves when I start to run., I eventually have no choice but to stop. I have had so many scans and tests ….nothing wrong with my back, no popiteal artery entrapment, compartment syndrome. I have done foam rolling had massages and acupuncture but nothing is helping. I am strengthening and stretching at the moment but that’s not immediately helping. I am desperate for someone to help :((

    Like

  31. Every time i run on a treadmill i start getting a pain like a tightness in my lower left leg.I start running as if i am limping but it goes away after 5 mins but is really uncomfartable…. any ideas as its a long running problem.

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  32. This artical is brilliant! I have been running on and off for around 8 years, no further than 3 miles and 8 years of very painful calves! Ive tried nearly every brand of footwear out there and finally found one pair that I didn’t feel that pain whilst using them, Skora fit, sadly they are at the end of their life and I can no longer find them ? I’ve just tried two other shoes – Skora core after 5 mins of running that pain was back? And vivobarefoot stealth 2 and again 7 mins of running and that terrible pain in my calves???? I mainly do Crossfit & my calves are already huge ? But I really want to get better and start to enjoy running ??‍♀️ Do you think they are way too tight? I did have a lumbar injury 10 years ago that gave me a lot of stiffness, pain but after a lot of careful back strengthening exercise it’s much better, I just don’t understand why it’s happening again since trying new shoes? ? Thank you for your time & I know this thread is old ?

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  33. Hi should I stop running until the pain settles down in my calfs, and do some strength work or can I keep running through the pain and try and change my running form ?

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  34. I work at a Sonic where my job is literally to run the whole shift in quick hard sprints. And I always feel fine for the most part at work, but when I come home the pain becomes so overwhelming that I can’t sleep, it feels like theyre throbbing. Any suggestions (I wear Nike shoes so my foot wear is good)

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  35. Hi, I am a runner training for a marathon (my 7th). I have an issue with both calves that happens when the weekly mileage and intensity becomes high. At the beginning of the run(and especially if there are hills in the first 2-3 miles), both calves tighten up very much and it becomes painful to run in them. I have to stop squeeze them hard and then they loosen up and are fine for the rest of the run.
    Do you know what causes this and what to do in order to avoid it?

    Thanks,
    Linda

    Like

  36. Hi Heidi, dont know if Ill get a reply but thanks for the great post! I ran my first 30km 4 days ago and on my run today my calfs and shins were so stiff that I could hardly run back home in right form. I probably upped my mileage to much last week additionally. Do you recommend resting the legs out for a few days or would you grind through the “Pain”.
    Bests
    K

    Like

  37. Annie Jane Wilkerson 22nd Mar 2017 — 1:14 pm

    What if your thigh hurts so bad that you can’t walk regularly

    Like

  38. I recently started jogging regularly, and I think I do a good job with landing midfoot considering I used to be a soccer player, but my calf started hurting and now it hurts to even walk on it, about an hour and a half after it started hurting. Thing is, all of my leg injuries have been on my right leg. Any clue?

    Like

  39. Hello, I have just started running 3 weeks ago with my husband, we are following
    the couch to 5k schedule. I’m enjoying it and want to do it. We have walked for yrs as we have dogs but this has definitely been a challenge for both of us. I am having pain on the inside of my calves that is causing me trouble to walk and I have to rest for to many days before I can run again. I have worn high heels to work for forever and have had to stop this over the last few days as it is simply to painful. We walk our dogs daily and I am also having a lot of pain during this activity that I have done for years. Please can you advise me, I do not want to quite but I need advice on how I can train, improve and walk my dogs on the days I do not run.
    Thankyou so much.

    Like

  40. I started running again a few days ago for the first time in about 2 years and since the first day I’ve had quite a bit of pain in my calves. The distance isn’t too far, just around two miles and I slow to a walk for maybe %15 of it. I feel the pain constantly though out the day though, it’s worse in the mornings or after I’m relaxing for a bit. I didn’t think about it when I started. I just knew I needed to start again, so I didn’t stretch or warm up at all. I’m 21. I’m basically wondering if I should stop running until the pain goes away or keep going until my body is used to it? I’m about to run again and I’ll make sure to walk for 5 minutes afterwards and stretch too. If you have any advice, it would be appreciated. Thanks.

    Like

  41. Hi, I stretch before I run. Then I would run about 150 yards and then both of my calves would start aching in pain and making me stop. The. I would try to stretch and it would not work. So I would have to limp back to my vehicle. Then the pain would go to severe where I could not even get out of my vehicle! What do I do?

    Like

  42. Usually when i stretch my calves sill be okay for maybe 5 to 10 mins specially if i havent ran in a long time or ran but after that my calves tighten up easily being flatfooted as well so idm what i can work on plz give me some advice.

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  43. Hi,
    I am an eighteen year old girl. I did long distance track (one mile event) last year for the first time. Our practices were intense (half a mile+ stairs for warm-up, half a mile, mile, and then two miles with five minute breaks in between). I often felt pain but my coach thought I just wasn’t used to it. I eventually got to the point where I felt sharp pain in my calf and had to stop and walk in the grass.
    But I never got x-ray or any professional treatment because my school nurse thought it was just shin splints. I didn’t do any sports since.
    And here I am a year later in moderate pain every time I jog or stand for a long time. I have no clue what is wrong and I’m too afraid to go to the doctor (specially that it’s been this long ).
    Please help me

    Like

  44. Only my right calf is paining while running, and it hurts so bad that I have to stop. I had no previous injury. Please suggest TIA

    Like

  45. Kyle Gorczynski 21st Nov 2017 — 4:09 am

    Hi,

    I used to be a long distance runner in high school and some of college. I recently had an ankle surgery ( it has been a year) to repair a ligament, and now even a 20 minute run will leave that calf muscle tight for at least a week at a time. It seems like no matter how much PT i do I will never be able to run as a workout again. The Surgeon who repaired my ankle ligament also suggested he “nip” a muscle in my leg to relieve the tension (he wanted to do this with the ligament repair) , which didnt seem like a great idea at the time, but now i feel like it is an option.
    My only concern is if i have this done as well what is to say something else won’t be affected ? Anybody have any advice?

    Like

  46. Thanks for the article. My calves are strong but it depends on the day whether I can run 15km no problem or 1 km before my calves tighten and become painful to run on …. any advice as my first half marathon is next month 🙂

    Like

  47. It can also be poor circulation.

    Like

  48. Louise Worthington 12th Feb 2019 — 2:44 pm

    Hi, I’m getting pain in my soleus/lower calf muscle that is excruciating pain every time I run. It aches for a day or so after but when I foam roll it starts to feel ok again. I do strengthen exercises and have adapted my run form but it doesn’t seem to help. Any suggestions?

    Like

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