How can I speed the recovery of my calf muscle?

As far as I can see, after a few days of RICE, the best way to recover from a muscle injury is to engage the injured muscle in light exercise to ensure that the healing process lays down fibrous tissue predominantly along the direction of muscle contraction, rather than producing a higgledy-piggledy tangle of fibrous tissue, which might require subsequent pruning to allow efficient muscle contraction. The challenge is adjusting the level of exercise so as to promote the desired formation of aligned fibrous tissue without repeatedly tearing the muscle at its point of weakness.

I have not run since tearing my right soleus muscle two weeks ago. Most days I have done either a core strength workout (various forms of crunch, press-ups, dips etc) or light leg strengthening exercises. In the past, in my occasional leg strengthening sessions I have focussed mainly on body-weight exercises while standing on one leg (squats, calf-raises, hip swings etc) but since injuring my right soleus I have mainly done the corresponding exercises while standing on both legs, wherever possible. This places only a light load on the injured leg. Until a few days ago, things appeared to be going well.

At the beginning of this week, I traveled to Shanghai for a meeting. The return flight to London on Wednesday involved one hour of sitting in my seat before take-off, and then twelve and a half hours in the air, followed by a train journey back to Nottingham. Despite drinking only two small glasses of red wine and fairly large amounts of water and orange juice during the flight, I think I became quite dehydrated during the journey.

In the early hours of Thursday morning I awoke with excruciating cramp in my right calf, and a less severe cramp in the left peroneus longus – the muscle that runs down the side of the lower leg. Attempts to massage the cramp away were futile – the mild degree of stretching of muscle fibres during massage only encouraged an even fiercer cramping, so there was nothing I could do except passively planar flex my ankle to lower the tension in the calf and hopefully minimise tearing of muscle fibres, while waiting for the contraction to subside spontaneously. The next morning I had quite noticeable pain in my right calf – mainly in gastrocnemius, but also some discomfort in soleus. Three days later the discomfort persists, so I am not sure when I will get back to running again.

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8 Responses to “How can I speed the recovery of my calf muscle?”

  1. ajh Says:

    Canute1, thanks for the link to your blog. I’ve had a quick browse around and am looking forward to finding the time to read through your primary articles. In fact I think yours might be the very first blog articles that I actually print off so I can read them properly!

    Do you have a medical background, or have you just acquired a lot of knowledge specifically from your running and other activities ?

  2. canute1 Says:

    Andrew, I hope you enjoy reading some of my posts – they are a bit long but I hope they contain some useful material. Yes, I do have a medical training and continue to practice medicine part-time though I would like to regard myself as an amateur in most fields of science. My PhD was in physics – obtained at a time when physics was the discipline that saw itself as the natural science on which all others were based. In fact that was a misleading bit of hubris, but there was also a grain of truth underneath the hubris. Over the years I have worked as a researcher in many different areas of science and my current university post is as a neuroscientist. However, my thoughts on running must be regarded as the musings of an amateur.

  3. Ewen Says:

    Canute, sorry your calf is still causing problems. When I tore my soleus (a minor tear), I did nothing – no massage or icing. I just left it – only did the easy walking I had to do. After about 3 weeks (it felt ‘normal’ after 2), I resumed easy jogging. I haven’t had any problems since, touch wood.

  4. canute1 Says:

    Ewen, Thanks for your comment. In fact the soleus is apparently healing well. Today there has been no trace of pain. I will continue to take things very easily this week and hope to be running again next week. Your experience is encouraging. It is good to hear that you have had no further troubles from your injury, I suspect that your consistent running over a long period has greatly strengthened your muscles and tendons.

    I am a little concerned that my injury appeared as soon as I added some high intensity sessions. Because I have returned to running after a very long hiatus, and in addition the modified Pirie running style I have adopted puts the calf at somewhat greater risk for the sake of protecting the knee, I am inclined to add some fairly regular calf strengthening exercises to my routine in future. I am not a believer in extensive stretching, but will also add some regular light stretches. Unfortunately it is not as easy to apply a satisfying stretch to soleus as it is to gastocnemius.

  5. AndrewE Says:

    I’m glad to hear it’s healing. There are some really interesting articles on your site.

  6. Audrey Says:

    Canute, found your blog via Andrew’s blog, and am really enjoying it. Sorry to hear about your calf, my husband tore a calf muscle and was out of action for around 8 weeks. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  7. Jason Says:

    I prefer to ask: How long is required to ensure proper recovery?
    Slight difference in the wording, but a very different mindset in dealing with injury.

    One week off for proper recovery is better than incomplete recovery that limits total training over the next couple of months.

    Typical minor-moderate soft tissue (muscle/tendon) timeline is:
    Acute phase 2-4 days apply RICE and NO HARM concepts here.
    Regeneration: another 6-20 days where light exercise working gently on range of movement and technical skill is important. Complete rest here is likely allow inflexibility scar tissue to form. Exercise is important, but it should be easy and aid recovery not cost recovery.

    Sounds to me as though the change in intensity was too drastic for what your body could handle. Maybe a rethink in how you build up might prevent the thing.

    These are the general concepts I have applied to myself and those I coached. Nev

  8. canute1 Says:

    Jason,
    Thanks. I agree that it is probable that the injury occurred mainly because I had increased the intensity of training too rapidly – though maybe rough terrain and perhaps also my altered runnings style contributed. Unfortunately it is not easy to know how rapidly one can cope with an increase in training load without trying, especially as I no longer enjoy the robustness of my younger days when I was very rarely injured. So perhaps it was not too foolish to test my limits The most important thing now is to learn from the experience.
    With regard to your advice on the time schedule for recovery, I think that is very good advice. Your choice of words to describe the goal also helps create the right mind-set

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