You're finished with your workout, but your calves tighten up. You might be tempted to bite the bullet and slog through the rest of your day and hope for the best. This might not be the best idea. Tightened calf muscles after exercising could indicate a problem that needs medical attention. In most cases, however, home treatment is appropriate, though you should call your doctor right away if the pain worsens or doesn't respond to treatment.
In many cases, stiffness in calf muscles after exercise is a sign of delayed onset muscle soreness, which is also characterized by pain in the hours following a new exercise routine. If you forget to stretch or skip it to shorten your exercise time, stiffness in your calves might occur. Certain health problems such as orthotic issues or compartment syndrome may be to blame. The latter occurs when your muscle becomes too big for the sheath that surrounds it. A doctor can help you make a definite diagnosis so you can treat the issue appropriately.
For most stiff calf muscles, a few simple home treatments can alleviate the discomfort and get you back to your workout routine as soon as possible. Rest is important because heading into another exercise session could exacerbate the problem and cause an injury. Stretch your calves slowly after your workout to get the blood flowing, which loosens the muscles. Lightly massage your calves with your fingertips to ease the tightening. Excessive and persistent tightening may respond better to regular sessions with a sports massage therapist.
Proper stretching before you exercise is an easy and fairly fast way to help prevent your calves from getting tight after a workout. Do calf raises and ankle flexes before your session to warm up your calf muscles and increase flexibility in the area. Proper form and safety precautions during exercise are also important for preventing tight calf muscles. Check yours often to make sure you are performing your chosen exercise the correct way.
Proper nutrition plays a role in keeping your calf muscles from getting tight after exercise. In general, choosing a variety of foods from each food group will ensure adequate nutrient intake for fueling exercise and keeping your body healthy. Protein is especially important as it supports proper muscle function and recovery. Good sources of protein include lean beef, chicken, fish, beans, dairy foods, eggs and nuts. It is also important to stay hydrated before, during and after exercise to keep your muscles working the way they are supposed to. Drink plenty of water to keep your calves working the right way.
Eliza Martinez has written for print and online publications. She covers a variety of topics, including parenting, nutrition, mental health, gardening, food and crafts. Martinez holds a master's degree in psychology.