Natural running, also known as barefoot running, is being adopted by runners as a popular alternative to running in shoes. Runners who run barefoot say it causes fewer injuries, as running shoes alter a runner's gait and, subsequently, cause stress on the wrong parts of the foot, which results in stress fractures, muscle sprains and tendon issues. Natural running, however, isn't without its drawbacks. Calf soreness is a common occurrence in those just starting natural running. But with the right combination of treatment and preventative care, you'll have your new barefoot gait back in no time.
Calf soreness is most common in runners who have just recently adopted natural running. A poor gait and inadequate footwear causes your Achilles tendon to shorten over time. This is what causes tightness, soreness and pain in the calves once runners begin transitioning to natural running. In the same way someone who lifts weights or does abdominal exercises becomes sore from stretching and engaging targeted muscle groups, a natural runner is slowly stretching and lengthening her Achilles tendon, causing soreness in the Achilles and calf regions.
Preventing calf soreness isn't too tricky. For starters, lift your knees while you run, keeping contact with the ground soft and momentary and preventing yourself from using your toes to push off the ground -- which is a key cause of sore calves. Also, increase your cadence and shorten your strides. This will decrease the stress on your legs and heels. Finally, listen to your body. There's no shame in stopping for a break or walking for a stretch of time. Natural running can be a great practice, but only if done in a smart way.
Unfortunately, there's not quick fix for a sore calf. But you can relieve some of the pain and make smart decisions that will help you heal more quickly and prevent injuries. In addition to an ice pack and occasional dose of pain medicine, massage is a great way to work out the pain. Massaging the sore areas with slow, firm and even strokes will help blood circulate in your calves, which will reduce pain. Also, a few easy calf and Achilles tendon stretches will not only help your blood circulate, but lengthen your Achilles tendon. Some effective stretches include the mock sit, where you drop your hips and behind as if sitting in a chair, bending at the knees; the step-drop stretch, where you place the ball of your foot on the end of a step or curb and slowly drop your heal down as you keep the ball of your foot on the step; or the towel pull, where, while sitting with your legs straight out in front of you and your knees locked, your wrap a short towel around the ball of your foot and slowly pull on the towel.
Runners just beginning natural running may face more than just calf soreness. Those running barefoot or with minimal shoe support are at a greater risk of developing Achilles tendinitis. This condition is defined by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons as an inflammation of the Achilles tendon -- which is the body's natural response to injury or disease -- and often causes swelling, pain or irritation. Women need not worry too much; most cases of Achilles tendinitis are treated with rest, ice and some pain medication.
- Harvard University: Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear -- Running Barefoot, Forefoot Striking & Training Tips
- Natural Running Center: You Can Run a Marathon with Flat Feet, No Orthotics and Minimalist Shoes -- and Without Injury
- Muscle and Movement Health: Barefoot Running for Beginners -- Using Then Avoiding Calf Pain
- Natural Running Center: Ask the Experts -- Dealing with Sore Calves and Achilles Tendon Discomfort
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Achilles Tendinitis
- FITDAY: How to Relieve Muscle Pain
Jennifer Kimrey earned her bachelor's degree in English writing and rhetoric from St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She's a regular contributor to the "Houston Chronicle" and her work has appeared on Opposing Views Cultures, The Austin American-Statesman, The Red Vault, The Western Vault and various other websites and publications.