A plan to help you recover from a muscle or tendon strain.
Since a few people have asked, I thought I would detail how I overcame my calf strain a few weeks before my A race (to end up winning my age group at Ironman Louisville). First and foremost, I STOPPED RUNNING when the strain happened during my last long run. I could have kept going but I decided the “walk of shame” was worth recovering in time for my big race.
Immediately (please note, I am not a medical professional. I highly suggest you connect with your own physicians regarding your treatment plan):
- Ibuprofen (800mg) around the clock for the first 48 hours
- ART (Active Release Technique) within 24 hours for calf and posterior chain. Continued treatments Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
- Ice cups (fill paper cups with water, freeze, and then rub over calf for fifteen minutes). Alternate ice and heat (hot tub) after 48 hours.
- Stick for self massage (focus on whole calf, not just acute injury area)
- Calf sleeve for compression
- Wore my highest drop (heel height much higher than forefoot height) running shoes for walking and moving. This provided less stress on the calf and achilles.
As soon as the acute pain was reduced, we (Coach, Physician and ART Chiropractor) slowly introduced a very limited amount of easy running on a treadmill with no incline. We also implemented a focused program on various exercises for my calf as well as everything two joints above my calf (hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, knee, hip/lower back etc.).
Here is the list of exercises. It looks overwhelming but really takes 20-30 minutes at most. I started each exercise with minimum time or reps. I executed daily and increased time and reps accordingly.
- Monster walks for time
- Side monster walks for time
- Foam roll glutes
- Foam roll hamstrings
- Foam roll calves
- Eccentric hamstring raises (up on a two count/down on a six count)
- Clam shells
- Single knee pull up while lying down on the floor
- Hip flexor stretch
- Piriformos stretch
- Eccentric heel focused raises (up on two feet, down on one) on a step. Very gently!
- Gentle angles ankle board stretches
- Big toe pulls with band. Feet should be angled out.
- Towel scrunches. With bare feet, pull a towel towards you by scrunching.
- Alphabet. Write the alphabet with your feet while seated on a couch. Forwards and backwards.
- Stick to massage hamstrings
- Stick to massage calves
We continued Ibuprofen only at bedtime for approximately a week. I am having a therapeutic massage focusing on my back once per week and have added a core program 3x per week.
The good part about an injury is that it reminded me how lucky I am to be able to do the sport I love. I do not take this journey for granted. If you have any questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some questions I have received after I published this article:
When your calf was strained, what did you do instead of running? Elliptical?
No, I did not elliptical. After a few days we added very short, very easy runs on the treadmill. I would stop if there was any sharp pain. I was amazed how well I was able to run at Louisville despite the limited running before the race. Trust the process. Your run will be there on race day.
How did you manage your bike workouts?
Bike I would do as tolerated but avoided big gear or lots of climbing. I would make sure your cleats are new and properly positioned on your shoes. It can be very helpful to your calf and achilles to push the cleat as far towards your heel as possible.
Did you just swim with a pull buoy all the time?
With swimming, I either just swam or used the pull buoy. No kicking drills and no using that leg to push off the wall. Fortunately, I have a 50 meter outdoor pool near my house which reduces the number of flip turns.