Runner's Calf Strain (1st, 2nd and 3rd Degree)
Of all the running injuries you can have this one has among the highest potential to sideline you from running for an extended period of time. Some injuries you can continue to run with or run through (even though that is not recommended) but with a 3rd degree calf muscle strain (Gastrocnemius muscle), you are likely done running for a prolonged period of time. Fortunately there are three degrees of a calf strain that are incremental and easy to recognize and diagnose to give you an early warning system of what is coming so you can avoid a worse injury.
First Degree Calf Strain - Minor calf damage from overuse. You feel a tight feeling in the calf, especially first thing when you role out of bed in the morning. After you walk around for a minute or two in the morning the tightness goes away. Sometimes it feels like your calf is tight and going to spasm or seize up when doing activities.
Second Degree Calf Strain - More extensive damage to the muscles. Calf soreness that lasts and is felt walk or jog even lightly. Sometimes light stretching makes the symptoms appear to subside but they return after you do any work. The muscle can often be sore to the touch as well.
Third Degree Calf Strain - A very sharp pain (possibly a partial or complete tear in your calf muscle) while running that often appears suddenly. Normally it is sharp enough that you instantly stop running and resort to limping. If you do not properly rehabilitate the muscle after this injury, this sharp pain will be ongoing and WILL re-emerge weeks later even if you take time off running. This injury must be rested and rehabbed.
Calf strain normally arises from overuse of your calf muscle from running or other strenuous calf activity. Explosive or intense workouts such as sprints or hill workouts can lead to calf strain. Deep calf stretching without warming up the muscle first can cause the injury as well.
Time off is required. When I have this injury I stop running completely for two or three weeks (even though it drives me half insane)!
Instead I work on easy bicycling and light calf toe raises. Ice is almost always helpful for running injuries. It really works like magic! After my two week rest period, I will try some very light straight line jogging like for one mile only.
Then I will rest for a few days. Then two miles. Then rest for a few days. And on and on I return to more strenuous running.
As long as I am not feeling the tightness in the morning, then I know I am OK. After a month you will have forgot about the injury altogether!
Don't forget to eat adequate amounts of protein too. Protein is needed to repair and build muscles.
Never stretch your calf muscle without warming up first. In every case where I have ever developed a calf strain injury it has been after a period of excessive stretching. I no longer put any priority on stretching and instead only lightly stretch before any run. Instead I take a prolonged period of time to warm up the muscles starting with simple walking and working up to a medium jog. If you want to stretch try it after your run. Incrementally increase your running mileage and speed over time to help prevent this injury. Also remember a cool down after running. If you have not tried this it is amazingly important and often overlooked. Go for a ½ mile walk after your next run and see.
Please note the above notes are only suggestions from a life long runner, please consult your doctor for professional advise on any injury that you experience.