How to Treat Tight Calf Muscles After Running

woman stretching her foot, ankle, and calf on concrete steps

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

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Tight calf muscles are a common problem for runners. They can occur naturally while running as your body responds to the stress placed on the main calf muscles, which include the gastrocnemius, or larger calf muscle, and the soleus muscle, a smaller muscle beneath it. The most common symptoms of tight calf muscles are pain, spasms, or a "cramping" sensation when you point or flex the foot.

You can decrease your risk of injury by prepping the calves before a run with a series of simple stretches. Regularly stretching can also help keep the muscles supple and prevent the excessive contraction of tissues between runs.


Watch Now: How to Avoid Cramps and Treat Tight Calves

In addition to stretching, gentle massage and icing may be helpful in treating tight calves. However, in some cases, you may need to see your healthcare provider for other treatment options.

Causes and Symptoms

Running is a high-impact activity that places repetitive stress on the calf muscles. Calf tightness can vary from one person to the next. Many people may experience tightness before a run, which tends to ease as they begin to hit their stride.

Other runners may experience tightness while running. For this group, the tightness often stems from biomechanical problems in which the foot strikes the ground unevenly and places excessive stress on the calf muscles.

Tight calf muscles may lead to overpronation, a biomechanical problem that occurs when the heel rolls inward as you take a step. A poor shoe fit and/or an improperly supported foot arch can also cause this.

Tight calves can be further exacerbated by dehydration. The rapid loss of salt through sweat can trigger muscle cramps in the lower extremities, most especially the feet and calves. Proper hydration before, during, and after a run can help prevent this.


While the treatment of tight calf muscles can vary based on the underlying cause, stretching, icing, massage, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication may help improve symptoms. A physical therapist or sports massage therapist may also be able to provide further help.


To stretch safely, move slowly and hold the position for up to 30 seconds. If you experience pain while stretching, ease back and maintain gentle pressure until the muscle begins to relax. If pain continues, it's best to stop. Be sure to stretch both sides and avoid bouncing, as doing so can increase your risk of a strain or rupture.


If you experience a charley horse, self-massage and gentle stretching can usually help ease the spasms. Try taking a lunge position with your non-cramped leg forward and your cramped leg extended back. You can also stand on your tiptoes for a few seconds to alleviate the cramp. Gently massage and knead the tight muscle while holding the stretch. Do not continue if it feels painful.

Icing and Medication

If the pain is severe, an ice pack may provide relief. Be sure to wrap the ice pack in a soft towel to help prevent frostbite. Icing can be followed by an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen).

Physical Therapy and Sports Massage Therapy

If the calf tightness is chronic and causing impairment, consider seeing a physical therapist or sports massage therapist. Several courses of deep tissue massage can often help alongside warm-water hydrotherapy. Some therapists may also recommend a plantar fasciitis night splint to prevent the muscle from seizing up when you sleep.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In some cases, tight and cramping calves may indicate a more serious condition. If you experience tight or cramping calves often that aren't responsive to any treatments, if they are severe, and if they occur even when you aren't running, it's best to see your healthcare provider for further treatment.


Tight calf muscles are more often the result of inadequate stretching complicated by an underlying foot or gait issue. To this end, there are several things you can do to prevent them from occurring:

  • Try to never run cold. Always stretch before a run and cool down when you finish. This is especially true in cold weather.
  • Watch those hills. It is easy to overdo it on a hill run when you are bounding on your toes and hyperextending your calves. Either slow down or take breaks when navigating a steep incline.
  • Avoid repetition. If your calves had a hectic workout one day, don't follow up with the same routine the next. Repeated stress is more likely to trigger a charley horse or injury.
  • Keep hydrated during a run. If running on a hot day, rehydrate regularly with an electrolyte-rich sports drink.
  • Make stretching a part of your routine. Even simple toe and heel raises can keep the calf muscles from seizing up between runs. Yoga is also beneficial for runners who are experiencing tightness.
  • Get the right shoes. If you are an avid runner, invest in a properly fitted pair of shoes from a specialist running store. If you have high arches or flat feet, speak with a podiatrist about custom orthotics or insoles.

Risks of Tight Calves

Certain individuals may be more likely to experience calf tightness, pain, and cramping, including those who workout to the point of exhaustion, those who have a health condition, those who are considered overweight, older individuals, as well as athletes who are beginning preseason training. Taking certain high cholesterol or decongestant medications may also increase the risk of this condition.

A Word From Verywell

If you experience tight calves after running, it may deter you from wanting to engage in this type of exercise. Taking preventative measures and treating tight calves appropriately may help ease your symptoms so you can get back to running without any discomfort.

If your symptoms continue even after trying several remedies, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can calf tightness signal a problem?

    Yes. In some cases, calf tightness and cramping may be linked to an underlying condition that requires further treatment. If you've tried several remedies and aren't feeling any relief, it's best to talk to your healthcare provider.

  • Should you be concerned about calf tightness?

    In many cases, calf tightness isn't anything to worry about and can be alleviated with stretching, gentle massage, icing, and over-the-counter medications. However, if these methods don't work, it may indicate an underlying condition and it's best to reach out to your healthcare provider.

  • How do shoes impact calf tightness?

    Shoes that are narrow and have a raised heel can lead to foot pain and conditions that are associated with tight calves. In addition, some research suggests that running in lightweight, flexible shoes is associated with calf pain and injury.

9 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.