Calf pain when walking – causes and how to treat it

Walking is a great form of exercise, whether you are trying to stay more active, lose weight or just get out and about more. Unfortunately, when we do any exercise that puts repeated pressure or strain on a specific set of muscles and joints, it can lead to pain and injuries.

A common complaint amongst walkers is calf pain. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the common causes and symptoms of calf pain experienced when walking.

What are the symptoms of calf pain?

Calf pain can vary from person to person, depending on which part of the lower leg is affected, whether it be the muscles, bone, or tendons.

Symptoms often start with some mild discomfort in the lower leg or foot which becomes more pronounced as you continue to walk.

Here are some of the most common calf injuries that affect walkers and their symptoms.

Pulled/strained calf muscle

There are two calf muscles in the back of your lower leg – the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

The gastrocnemius attaches to the Achilles tendon, and the soleus connects to your tibia and fibula.

During exercise, these two calf muscles shorten and tighten, which puts pressure on the muscle fibres and can cause a pulled calf muscle.

A pulled or strained calf muscle occurs when the fibres in these muscles become torn, usually because of overstretching the muscle or not warming up adequately before exercise.

Symptoms of calf muscle strain:

The symptoms of a mild pulled or strained calf muscle is a feeling of ‘pulling’ and discomfort, with a small amount of pain. You might also see some mild swelling or bruising.

For more serious pulls or tears, there is likely to be a sharp pain and you are likely to struggle to walk.

Treatment of calf muscle strain:

The best course of treatment for a mid-sprain or pull of a calf muscle is to follow the R.I.C.E method.

  • Rest, and don’t exercise again until the pain has subsided.
  • Ice, or cold compresses can help reduce swelling.
  • Compression can also help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation can also help recovery.

It might also be beneficial to take over-the-counter medications to help with the pain if you’re in discomfort.

Achilles Tendinitis

Another common cause of calf pain is a condition called Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles tendon). It is most commonly seen in runners or walkers who have increased the length or intensity of their exercise too rapidly.

Symptoms of Achilles tendinitis:

The symptoms of inflammation of the Achilles tendon usually start with mild pain and discomfort, felt after walking or other activity. However, it is important not to ignore the symptoms, as inflammation can weaken the tendon, making you more susceptible to a more serious injury such as a tear.

Treatment of Achilles tendinitis:

It’s usually possible to treat tendonitis yourself, and start seeing improvements within 2-3 weeks.

The most important thing is getting adequate rest, and you might also benefit from putting an ice pack on the tendon every 3-4 hours. Paracetamol or ibuprofen might also help with the pain.

Shin splints

Shin splints are another common calf injury that can cause calf pain whilst you are walking.

Although usually associated with running, shin splints can be caused by the impact on your lower leg from walking and other exercises too. The pain is caused by inflammation of the connective tissue that joins your bones and muscle in your lower leg.

Symptoms of shin splints:

Although painful, shin splints aren’t a major cause for concern and can be treated at home. The major symptom of shin splints is sudden pain that runs down the front of your lower leg (your shin), the area around your shin bone may also be tender to touch.

Treatment of shin splints:

The most important thing when suffering from shin splints is not to rush back into physical activity. If you get back into activity too soon, you risk a more serious injury, such as a stress fracture.

The R.I.C.E method is also relevant here, and rest is one of the most critical factors. Insoles or orthotics for your shoes might help with the pain, as might anti-inflammatory pain medication.

Exercises to help with calf pain

If walking is causing you to have calf pain, ensure that you stretch and warm up adequately before starting your walk.

Doing a range of stretches that will improve the flexibility in the joints and muscles in the lower leg will help to avoid strains and pulls.

Making sure you have suitable footwear such as comfortable walking or hiking shoes will also help to avoid any unnecessary stress being put on your calf.

Other potential causes of calf pain when walking

Muscle strains, tendon inflammation and shin splints are all common activity-based injuries – things that are likely to have occurred from either overuse, pushing yourself too hard, or not warming up properly.

If you don’t feel that physical activity has caused your calf pain, it might be worth speaking to a medical professional about other potential reasons you’re feeling calf pain when walking.

Some conditions that can cause calf pain when walking include:

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI)

This occurs when some valves in the veins in your legs are less functional than they should be. As a result, your blood struggles to flow back to your heart from your legs.

If you suffer from Chronic Venous Insufficiency, you’re likely to feel pain in your lower legs when walking, and have calves that feel tight. It’s also likely you might suffer from muscle cramps and muscle spasms in your calves.

Chronic compartment syndrome

If you suffer from chronic compartment syndrome, you might also suffer pain in your calves and lower leg muscles during physical activity. Symptoms can include:

  • Muscle cramps and pain during exercise
  • Swollen muscles
  • Difficulty moving the affected muscles

Chronic compartment syndrome is most common for people that engage in repetitive exercise, such as running, walking or cycling, and any pain often stops shortly after stopping activity.

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