A few weeks back, I went for a run and tweaked my calf.  This was unusual for a couple reasons. First, I was only about half a mile into the run.  I had been running two miles consistently 3-5 mornings a week over the past two months, so my body was accustomed to doing the activity.  If I hadn’t gone for a run in a few months, I could see how I might get tweaked the first time out. But this was a run I was doing almost every morning.  There wasn’t anything unusual about the speed I was going or how my body felt when I woke up. In fact, I was feeling great up to that point.

The second unusual thing was that I tweaked my left calf.  Historically, the majority of my foot and body issues have shown up on my right side, so the fact that my left calf got injured was bizarre to me.  Had my left side been compensating for my right side for so long that it finally gave out? I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I needed to stop my run ASAP so I could figure this out.

There are a couple discussion points I want to bring up in regards to this.  First, I want to discuss what I did in response to the injury happening. Second, I want to disclose why, after further thought, I believe the injury happened in the first place.

What did I do?

Once I felt the injury happen, I immediately stopped my run and walked home.  I didn’t try to push through the discomfort to see if it would work itself out.  This is a really big point. A lot of times I hear from people about trying to push through when something gets tweaked.  They get it in their head that they need to finish their workout at all costs, and they end up injuring themselves to a much greater extent than they otherwise would have had they just stopped when they first felt it.

It is very difficult for me to justify working out through pain unless doing the workout is how you pay your bills (i.e. you are a professional athlete), and even then it would be a stretch for me to say that you should push through.  Exercising should about improving your health, so if pushing through an injury means you end up doing more damage, then you have completely missed the point of exercising in the first place.

Next, I didn’t try to loosen anything up.  Yes, my calf felt REALLY tight.  But, I need to figure out what was causing it to feel tight.  Even though the tightness was uncomfortable, I knew that was simply a symptom.  Trying to loosen up the tightness wasn’t going to do anything to actually help me heal, it was just going to reduce the discomfort I was feeling.  Instead, I needed to figure out WHY it was tightening up in the first place. In other words, I needed to figure out what other muscles were not working well that were causing my calf to compensate and take on too much stress.  I realized that the tightness was there as a protective mechanism to try to make sure the calf didn’t get injured even more. Even though it didn’t feel good, I needed the tightness there to help my muscles and joints stay safe.

Finally, I got in for an MATRx® foot session with Julie as soon as I could.  Fortunately, we both had some availability later that morning, so I got in ASAP.  I didn’t wait to see if it would just go away on its own because I knew that even if the symptom subsided, the underlying cause would still be there.  I needed to figure out which muscles were not working well and as such forced the calf to overwork and get injured.

As a result of these steps, I was back to nearly 100% within 24 hours.

But, I still didn’t know why my body was susceptible to injury in the first place.

Why did it happen?

Generally speaking, I’m relatively strong and healthy.  I was also accustomed to the stress I was putting on my body with running.  But, there were two activities I had done a couple days before that, which I believe were big contributing factors to leaving me vulnerable.

First, I had gone for a 60-minute bike ride with my feet clipped into the pedals.  This is significant because when your feet get clipped into pedals, they can all of a sudden be used for pulling up on the pedals, not just pushing them down.  This means that the muscles that are on the front of your lower leg, shin, and foot are being worked the entire time you are biking. Considering the fact that these muscles are typically conditioned to be able to lift the weight of your foot, using them to lift the pedals plus the resistance of biking puts a lot more stress on these muscles.

Second, I had golfed 9 holes and walked a hilly course.  I have written in the past about how stressful golf can be for your feet as well as the motion requirements of the sport.  The culmination of this was that every axis of my feet, hips, and trunk was stressed in a manner that it was not accustomed to.  Even though my body was well-prepared for the running, it was not prepared for the activities I did in the days leading up to the running.

The takeaway I want you to leave with is that issues creep up within your body for a reason, whether it is tightness, achiness, or any combination thereof.  If you are only addressing the symptom, you are likely missing the reason why the symptom is there.

Two action steps for you to make sure this isn’t an issue for you:

1) Stay ahead of your symptoms by getting tuned up where there isn’t any perceivable issue.

2) Don’t wait to get issues addressed – do something now before they become bigger and more difficult to deal with.

If you would like to find an MAT® practitioner in your area, you can do so here.

So, what do biking and golf have to do with a running injury?

Participating in activities you are not accustomed to can leave your body vulnerable to issues that creep up when doing the things you are accustomed to.  Had I gotten my body tuned up before I went for my run on that morning, I doubt the issue would have occured.

Charlie Cates

Charlie Cates is the leading consultant to high-level professional, college, & high school basketball players in the Chicagoland area for injury prevention, recovery, & muscle performance. As a certified Muscle Activation Techniques® MATRx practitioner & former college basketball player, he uses his personal experience & understanding of the game & player demands to create customized exercise options for his clients to recover faster & perform their best. He is certified in the highest levels of MAT®, including MATRx, MATRx Stim, and MAT® Athlete. Follow him on Instagram @CharlieCates!