As a runner, I am always suffering minor injuries. So I sucked it up this time and went to physical therapy. I needed to see what I was doing wrong and I didn’t want to risk not running another race ever again.
Stubbornness is a problem for some of us when it comes to taking care of our bodies. When it comes down to it, immediately taking care of what may seem like a small problem can prevent bigger problems later on.
I mildly injured my left outer calf muscle (or my gastrocnemius) while training for a half marathon in May 2012 and finally got to running again. My time off all summer was torture but it was the best thing I could have done for my body. Instead I did other cardio and strength workouts like cycling, elliptical, free weights, lots of walking and physical therapy of course.
I arrived at the physical therapy office a month and a half after my injury. I walked up to the front desk just to meet another runner. He claimed he had injured so many little joints/muscles within his running career but kept going and took care of the problem immediately. To his benefit, he works with physical therapists and knows at least some of the ropes but according to him, he still doesn’t know everything there is to know to prevent an injury. I guess I’m not as runner-smart as I thought I was.
The physical therapist said I didn’t need “the boot” (thank god). “The boot” is a kind of cast made of a hard plastic. It goes over your foot and reaches just below the knee – basically it just looks like a boot. He said if I would have come right when I got my injury, the boot would definitely be necessary. That was great news for me! (I’m just stubborn – I didn’t want anything slowing me down. If it comes down to it, I highly recommend the boot if it’s necessary. It keeps your torn or strained muscles stabilized so that they can heal quicker). Within a month and a half of waiting and not running, my calf injury began to heal itself. He gave me a list of some exercise to do 3 times per week that would strengthen my calf muscle and other muscles in my leg such as my quad and hamstrings.
Interesting fact: Exercising 3 or more times per week = improvement. Exercising 2 times per week = maintenance.
I thought I would share some of the strength exercises he had me do below. If you have an injury, check with your physical therapist or doctor first. Your injury could be completely different from mine. The therapist wasn’t 100% sure exactly what muscle I tore or damaged, but it was close to my outer calf muscles.
Single-Leg, Straight-Leg Deadlift:
Calf Raises: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart and holding the back of a chair or table (for balance), slowly raise up to your toes and hold for one count. Return to starting position only not resting your heels on the floor. Repeat 10 times.
Next, turn your feet outwards like a duck and do the same thing, keeping your feet turned out. (Really force your feet to stay in that position. It will feel awkward at first, but it will just get easier). Repeat 10 times.
Finally, turn your feet inwards (pigeon-toed), and continue to do the same thing only forcing your toes to face in. Repeat 10 times. Do one more set of each calf raise. When you feel yourself begin to get stronger, add 3-5 lb. dumbbell weights and hold them at your sides while you raise up and let back down.
Side Jumps: Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart, arms by your sides, jump right to left, as if you were jump roping only jumping from side to side. Do this at a moderate pace for 30 seconds. Repeat 2 more times. (Really focus on pushing off with your feet. Give it some power to make you stronger. This exercise is good if you normally do high-impact exercises such as running).
Calf Stretches: Stand facing a wall or door. With palms up against the door, toes and ball of foot leaning on door with heel on the floor, slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for 30-45 seconds. Repeat up to 5 times throughout the day.
4 weeks later I showed up to my follow-up appointment and I was ready to run again. I did these strengthening exercises 3-times per week plus I continued any aerobics classes or exercise machines at the gym throughout the week. The physical therapist suggested I continue doing the above strength exercises so I can prevent any injuries later on. I recommend you see your doctor first so you know exactly where your injury is before you take on any of these strengthening exercises.