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You Asked: Pulled Calf Muscle?


Dear Fit,
I overdid it running on the treadmill a couple of nights ago. I ran hard and was in a rush so I didn't stretch or cool down. Then I put my heels back on to go to a cocktail party. When I got home, my right calf was aching. It hurts a bit when I walk and feels really tight. I think I pulled it. What can I do to help it heal quickly? Do I ice it? Do I heat it? I haven't worked out in a couple of days and I miss the exercise.
Thanks,
— Kink in My Calf

Ouch! I hate exercise injuries and feel your pain, though I usually injure my hamstrings. I think it is good that you're staying off your calf. To see how I think you should treat this injury, just read more.

First off, it sounds to me like you strained your calf rather than pulled it. A strained muscle is when the muscle is overstretched while working and develops micro tears. Usually it happens when the muscle is being asked to simultaneously stretch and bear weight, like when running. In a pulled muscle, the size of the tears are larger and are considered partial tears. A pulled muscle is much more painful, and generally with a pulled muscle you feel the pain immediately upon injury, creating an "OMG! What have I just done?" moment. It doesn't sound like that happened your case.

The good news is that strained muscles heal much more quickly pulled muscles. It generally takes about two weeks for a strained muscle to completely repair. Initially you want to ice your strained muscle for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. But after 48 hours, transition to heat in the form of baths or heating pads. The initial icing will help keep down any swelling that has occurred in the muscle, then the subsequent heat promotes healing. To reduce the sensation of pain, you can take over-the-counter pain medication.

For healing purposes, the best thing you can do is rest the muscle by avoiding impact activity, like running, and don't try to stretch the muscle until the pain is gone. While I am not sure that wearing heels is what you want to subject your injured calf to, wearing flats with this kind of injury is not beneficial either. You want to keep the heel lifted a bit, so wearing running shoes would be ideal. If that is not your style, you can put a little heel lift in your shoe, but be sure to put one on the non-injured side to keep your legs even. Lifting the heel takes pressure off the calf muscle, and can help during the recovery process.

Once the pain is gone, be sure to stretch and strengthen your calves with some heel raises; I would also do some basic walking before hitting the treadmill again. If you allow the muscle to fully recover, you decrease the chances of reinjuring your calf. A proper warm-up will help prevent injury, too; do some light cardio, then stretch the muscle before running hard. If in two weeks you are still in pain, make an appointment with your doctor to make sure you haven't torn the muscle or tendon.

Sure do hope this helps.

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