tight calf muscles

I have been running for about three months and have really tight calves. Sometimes I have to stop repeatedly during a run to stretch them. I run about 30-40 mins, 3 times a week.

A search of the internet suggests that I have "posterior compartment syndrome" - a muscle growing too big for its sheath - which is apparently not uncommon for beginners.

But what do I do about it? I imagine that frequent massage is a good idea. And maybe exercising the other calf muscles (with standing calf raises) will help balance things out? I've recently also gotten some proper running shoes (I did have too-small crosstrainers), so that may help.

Is there anything else I can do to rid myself of this?


  • I've got a similar problem. Ran for 2 miles on Sunday before the calf gave way.

    Didn't run again until this morning. Less than a mile befor the pain started, slowed down to complete a 2 mile circuit.

    Advice needed!!
  • I had the same problem last year when i started running. It meant i had to take longer rests in between runs, plenty of massage and ibuprofen gel.
    Its noticeably easier this year, i guess its another one of those ailments that just sort themselves out over time
  • stretching and strenghtening-
    also high heeled shoes to trainers will confuse them a bit!
  • Well it sounds like something that just takes a little time to settle down. I shall continue the stretching and massage routine. Thanks.
  • I will back Bune up on the heels to trainers thing, my calves have completely knotted up from wearing them for the past coule of weeks. In fact I only managed 25 mins last night before I have to hobble home. Feeling very sorry for myself and my new image transformation has taken a nose dive today!!!
  • Sounds like the same problem i have currently. I've done some strength training for 3 months and completed 3 PBs from 10k to marathon, then suddenly calf tightened too much. After resting (eventually!!), it was OK for 2 weeks, including a 19 miler. Had MOT at physio and he advised stretching (as I was) and then again it was very tight today in a 10 mile race. I held back (as I didn't fancy walking 5 miles back to the start in the rain) and at 7 miles I thought it was going to go completely, so eased right back for a few minutes. It then cleared and I finished very strongly, so I don't know what the solution is. Rest, stretching and massage are the obvious answers, but from my experience, that is not enough. If anyone has the remedy, I'm all ears.
  • I too had the same problem with both calfs. I also thought it was compartment syndrome when in fact it actually was simply getting the muscles used to the training miles. I now stretch frequently, use hot/cold pads, massage and used ibuprofen pills before running serious mileage. This meant that I could run pain free resulting in running properly and not compensating for the discomfort possibly causing more serious injury. After a while the pains subsided as the legs strengthened and I no longer need the pills! I used Nurofen Meltlets as the pain killer as they had no effect on my stomach (some Ibuprofen tablets do apparently!). Hope this helps...if all else fails just slow the pace down until the legs can cope with increasing the speed...
  • I too have experienced calf problems on and off for a year, until i had a video analysis done at an exhibition which clearly identitified i was wearing the wrong type of running shoes. The problem appears to have eased considerably, but I would also recommend regular calf strengthening, stretching,and some light massage.
  • I had a problem with shinsplints during my training for this year's FLM, caused by really tight calves. I tried the physio/sports masseur option, which didn't really help me personally (just caused me lots of pain!!!) What worked for me was 1) making sure I ran on flat surfaces, (as much of my training had been done on varying terrains on a canal path.) 2) regular stretching and light self-massage. However, the best thing I found was replacing a training run with a session on the crosstrainer at the gym (which really strengthens the calves,) followed by a slow stretching session for 10-15 minutes. Also swimming really loosens the calves up, so give that a try too?

  • Two days before the Milton Keynes Half Marathon and my left calf feels like its in a vice!

    Going to try the jacuzzi and pool, plus some of the solutions mentioned above.

    This is my last competitive race for the year and I don't want to let my charity down.
  • The same problem occured right out of the blue for me when I was training for a half-marathon. After weeks of massage and trying to run it off I eventually decded to give it a break completely and took 2 weeks out, just cycling and rowing at the local gym.I then started building up the miles more gently and haven't been bothered since.
  • Go-KL steps onto his soapbox!:
    As a former sufferer of chronic posterier and anterior comaprtment syndrome, massage, ice, anti inflammatories can help if caught early, but if the condition continues then the only option is to have surgery.
    A fascioctamy is performed to cut the muscle fascia, allowing the pressure inside the muscle to be relieved.
    I had this done to me last year and after many months of recuperation I can almost confidently say the problem is behind me.
    Sorry to offer such a negative prognosis but if tests performed confirm that it is chronic compartment syndrome than it is really the only solution. This isn't my opinion, but that of my extremely competent consulatant who performed the operation, and of Noakes in his book Lore of Running, who sites it as one of only two running injuries that absolutely require surgery to cure!
  • I had problems with tight calves which kept craping for several weeks.

    Last Thursday I picked up courage to phone a sports physio. He had a cancellation for the same night so went along. All I can say is it was fantastic and at times a bit sore experience. Apparently all my problems were due to lactic acid in my calf's. After about an hour of massage on my legs from calves to thigh's and then some stretches I felt they were much easier.

    I have been out today for my first run since and I really enjoyed it and experenced no cramping! I will certainly make sure I go again to the physio if I get any aches and pains it was the best money I have spent.
  • My own experience for what it is worth is as follows: I started running (at the age of 59)at the end of August - well walk-run to be accurate. I managed to begin to run more than walk and then my left calf started to cramp just as I had run my first 17 minutes non-stop. I stretched, did exercise bike, rested etc but also tried running 2 or 3 times a week. By the end of Sptember it had cleared up. By now I was managing to run 20-30 minutes. but then, frustration !!!, my right calf started to play up, and 3 weeks later it still is. I just think that it is clearing up then back it comes. I have found that if I exercise every day and run regularly I can run through the "cramp?" to some extent. Anyway I feel that since the left is now sorted the right should eventually follow, although it means that I don't feel able to progress as much as I would like.

    It is mildly comforting to know that there are other sufferers out there. I hope to read of problems overcome, or miracle cures in the future.
  • I've begun to get a niggling pain in one or both my calves after my long run. I stretch afterwards always, but it doesn't seem to make much difference. The slight tightness doesn't bother me too much except that it means I have to go easier on my 'recovery' run the next day.

    I wondered whether massage would help. Other than just rubbing my legs down myself, does anyone know how one can administer a calf massage to oneself?
  • WaboWabo ✭✭✭
    Does anyone ever get tightness in calf followed by numb feet? I have had this loads of times, only on cross country and especially when its hilly. The left calf (maybe even lower?) starts to feel a bit tight and eventually my foot goes so numb its like running on a stub! Very frustrating way to do these races:(
    I do overpronante and wear stabil mc orthotics, but on xcountry I use nb xterrian. I just wonder if its tight calves that cause this?
    possunt quia posse videntur - we can because we know we can 
  • Thought I would continue my tale since I now have no calf problems. I mix running with gym workouts, so run 4 times a week. I decided that running with an aching calf seemed to be possible, so that is what I did. I would stretch and rub it, rest a day then have another go. Gradually it went away. I am running about 45 minutes at a time with no bother currently. What will happen as I increase this I don't know but I am pleased to be able to concentrate on trying to get fit enough to run further and longer though not, alas, much faster. Good luck to those who suffer from their calves. It seems to be a more minor leg problem than some you read about.
  • The solution is a deep pin point stretch, go stand on the first step of your staircase facing upstairs, stabalise your upper body by holding onto a rail or wall. now edge your feet back so that you are ballancing on your mid foot or arch. one foot at a time allow your heel to drop as far back as is comfortable to gain a deep stretch in the lower calf and achiles. use the other foot to help raise the active foot back up into a tip toe position and repeat 20 times each foot twice per day for one week. Do this after every run the problem will disapear after about a week but will return as soon as you forget to do it. ,
  • I had been running quite a bit (30-50 miles a week) and I slowly had tight calves, eventually resulting in 5 minutes into a run simply cramping up and having to stop, some stretching and I could go for further before it returned. A bit of self, internet diagnosis came up with compartment syndrome but I decided I had no idea and went for professional advice image The doc said try magnesium tablets, one a day, for 10 days and keep running (always the way to convince me!) after a couple of days I was back in action, week later beat my half marathon PB by 4 minutes image Give it a go as there is no harm in it. Hope it works for everyone get them from any health food shop.



  • In most cases, this won't be a true posterior compartment syndrome, where the pressure within the muscle compartment rises to painful levels; it'll just be the muscles getting used to unaccustomed exercise and the normal inflammatory process that starts when you place new demands on the muscles before they adapt to your new "norm".

     As previous posters have said, options that can help with this are painkillers, stretching, massage (either get this done professionally or you can use foam rollers and spiky massage balls etc) and strengthening exercises (Google "eccentric loading programme for calf" and that will give you some good options; essentially standing with your heels off the edge of a step, push up onto tiptoes with your good foot if you have one, and lower slowly using the "bad" leg). It can also be helpful in the short term to try heel raises in your running shoes as this reduces the amount of stress through the calf and Achilles.  Nutrition is also important - make sure you're getting enough water and minerals into your system as they feed the muscles and improve their quality.

     If this doesn't solve your problem within a couple of months though, do go and seek expert advice from a physio or podiatrist (or similar: make sure you choose someone who is experienced in dealing with sportspeople or the military, where these problems are really common) as the problem could be biomechanical or compartment syndrome, in which case specific strengthening exercises or orthotics (for biomechanical issues) or a fasciotomy (for chronic exertional compartment syndrome) may be necessary.  The longer you leave it before tackling the issue, the more likely you are to need a longer lay-off.

  • Dont know if any1 has already suggested this (didnt read all the replies!) but i posted about calf tightness and some1 suggested rolling my foot over a tennis ball in circles, i did this 2 day & it has worked a treat! image
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