On Friday I had an Ironman triathlete post a message on one of the forums I moderate. He is having pain in his lower calf that is holding him back from properly training for Ironman NZ, and nothing seems to be helping. He had been stretching, but finally stopped that as it wasn’t working (good he stopped actually), but he didn’t know what to do.
Here’s my response to him, and I think it’s an important topic for any athlete who is training for an endurance event:
As you are aware, you have a repetitive strain injury, but stretching is definitely not the answer and can actually cause more of the problem. The analogy I always use is, if you had a 12″ length of rope and tied enough knots in it that it is now 11″ long, and then you try to stretch it back to 12″ you can see what would happen. The knots get tighter and the fibers outside of the knots my overstretch and even tear. Add to this that when it is a muscle it is pulling on both sides of the muscle, where the fibers insert into the bone. You must first untie the knots (spasms) and then you can stretch safely.
If you go to https://www.julstromethod.com you can read all about repetitive strain injuries. Also read the sections titled “Muscles and Pain” and “What’s Happening Exactly.” I think you’ll also get some good information by reading the Muscles and Joint Pain forum (click on the white box at the top right of the Home Page).
From the description of where you are feeling the pain I would say that the odds are you have a shortening of your flexor digitorum longus muscle which originates underneath your Achilles tendon and inserts into the bottom of your toes. Also your flexor hallicus longus which also originates underneath your AT and inserts on the bottom of your big toe. I’ve only seen this muscle be a problem in athletes, not the general public, because the muscles are used to press your toes into the ground so you can push off with power. Just walking doesn’t strain the muscles, but fast running will.
If you are feeling your pain also in the center of your calf, then you could have some pelvic rotation (a long story, I suggest you go to http://www.forum.julstrointernational.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=762 so you can read all the details) that is causing pressure on your sciatic nerve. This is a very common problem for athletes, especially cyclists.
You can go to a good massage therapist who is trained at doing trigger point therapy, or you can learn how to self-treat the muscles. The best part about self-treatment is that you can do it daily (and should do it daily) after you work out, and definitely after you do long training sessions. By self-treating you quickly flush out the muscles, draw blood into the fibers to heal any bruises that occurred during the straining of exercise, and you can learn how to stop pain fast, even during a race. The websites will explain what to do.
I love getting my muscles treated and definitely think a good massage therapist is worth his/her weight in gold, but when you are exercising at a high intensity you need more work than you can get by going to a therapist — that is unless you are very wealthy and have the time available so you can go every day. For most of us, that isn’t the case. That’s why self-treatment is so important, and is so easy to learn and do. With just a little instruction, you’re ready to go!
Happy Race Season!