Calf pain when walking – causes and how to treat it

Walking is a great form of exercise, whether you are trying to stay more active, lose weight or just get out and about more. Unfortunately, when we do any exercise that puts repeated pressure or strain on a specific set of muscles and joints, it can lead to pain and injuries.

Runner holding calf in pain

A common complaint amongst walkers is calf pain. Walking or running, especially over long distances or periods of time, can lead to pain in the lower leg. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the common causes and symptoms of calf pain experienced when walking.

What are the symptoms of calf pain?

Calf pain can vary from person to person, depending on which part of the lower leg is affected, whether it be the muscles, bone, or tendons. Here are some of the most common calf injuries that affect walkers and their symptoms.

Pulled or strained calf muscle

There are two muscles in the back of your lower leg that make up your calf muscle, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. A pulled or strained calf muscle occurs when the fibres in these muscles become torn, usually as a result of overstretching the muscle or not warming up adequately before exercise

Symptoms of calf muscle or tendon strain:

The main symptoms of a muscle pull of strain will be pain in the muscle and inflammation, particularly when walking or standing on the balls of your feet. The muscle may feel tight and make walking feel painful or limited.

Shin splints

Shin splints are another common calf injury that can cause calf pain whilst you are walking. Although usually associated with running, shin splints can be caused by the impact on your lower leg from walking and other exercises too. The pain is caused by inflammation of the connective tissue that joins your bones and muscle in your lower leg.

Symptoms of shin splints:

Although painful, shin splints aren’t a major cause for concern and can be treated at home. The main symptom of shin splints is pain that runs down the front of your lower leg (your shin), the area around your shin bone may also be tender to touch.

Tendonitis

Tendonitis in your calf is called Achilles tendonitis and is caused by the overuse or strain of the Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of your calf connecting to your foot. 

Symptoms of tendinitis:

Common symptoms of Achilles tendonitis are pain in the back of the leg, swelling or inflammation and difficulty in flexing the foot.

How to treat calf pain

Most calf injuries can be treated safely at home by resting, applying an ice pack, using a bandage or support to apply compression, and keeping the affected leg elevated. This is known as the R.I.C.E. method.

If your calf injury is causing severe pain and you are unable to walk, you should consult your doctor immediately to seek treatment and rule out more serious injury.

Exercises to help with calf pain

If walking is causing you to have calf pain, ensure that you stretch and warm up adequately before starting your walk. Doing a range of stretches that will improve the flexibility in the joints and muscles in the lower leg will help to avoid strains and pulls. Making sure you have suitable footwear such as comfortable walking or hiking shoes will also help to avoid any unnecessary stress being put on your calf.