For the past few months I’ve been gradually increasing my running distance and working on improving my speed (see my new 10km PB ). I’ve made a real effort to increase my distance by no more than 10% each week, as this seems to be the key number other runners swear by to avoid injuries. Despite this, I slowly developed a niggle in my calf. It started off as a bit of tightness, so I incorporated a few more calf stretches and strength exercises into my routine. It didn’t get any better but it wasn’t affecting my running, so I kept up with my training plan. The tightness in my calf gradually shifted into pain in my shin, which was noticeable everytime I stepped up with my right leg (putting all the weight on my left leg), and that’s when I decided that I needed to see a physio to get it sorted out.
I’ve seen a physio in the past when I pulled my lower back, so I know I have a few hip/back issues. My pelvis twists and turns in ways it’s not meant to and my biomechanics are just generally off. When I saw the physio he had me perform a series of single leg exercises (squat, leg raise etc) and watched how my hips moved. The look on his face wasn’t very encouraging. He then performed a few flexibility tests (stretching through my hamstring and hips). I was significantly less flexible on my left hand side (my injured calf side).
It turns out my left hip pops out when I perform single leg squats, which means my hip flexor works extra hard and my glutes don’t activate. This has translated into my running style, so my calf muscle overcompensates for my inactive glute, which is why it was getting sore. My foot was also starting to turn in, which was adding to my calf pain. After the diagnosis he launched right into treatment, starting off by releasing my hip flexor. This is done by basically poking and prodding it until it lets go, and it is incredibly painful if your hip is tight. After this he also released my pifiormis, which wasn’t much fun either. After each release he got me to perform a step up to see how it changed the pain. There was an immediate improvement in my calf after each one, which I couldn’t believe. He sent me home with instructions to use a spiky ball to loosen up my piformis and calf, and told me to come back in a few days for some strengthening exercises.
At my next session he had me use a foam roller to release my v-something, a muscle that runs next to your ITB band on your thigh. It was almost as painful as the previous session when he was releasing my hip, but astonishingly I had no pain in my calf afterwards. He also gave me some glute activating exercises, so that my calf would stop working overtime to make up for my lazy glutes. He cleared me for running so long as I foam rolled before running and stopped if my calf started to get sore again
Since that session I’ve gone running three times, twice at the gym and once outside. Amazingly, my calf doesn’t hurt at all any more, and it doesn’t even feel tight, I’m convinced my physio is a miracle worker. Given my history with hip/back issues I thought it might be contributing, but I had no idea that by simply releasing my hip and thigh and getting my glutes to get off their lazy arses and do something (geddit? ) my calf would feel better. It’s amazing how it’s all interconnected. I’m due to see him again this week as a follow up, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other magical things he can do :p