Unless you’re one of the hardy breed of cyclists who likes to travel on two wheels all year round, the early signs of spring are likely to herald the start of the cycling season for you. But, before you joyfully pull on your cycling shorts and head off for your first ride of the season, it’s worth sparing a thought for your calf muscles and, specifically, how to avoid straining them.
Calf muscles work hard during a bike ride and injuries to this part of your body are no joke. A damaged calf muscle could keep you off your bike for up to six weeks, depending on the severity of the injury.
Symptoms you have damaged your calf muscles
If your calf muscles rupture or partially rupture, you are likely to experience severe sudden, sharp or burning pain. Sometimes you may also hear the muscle tear. This can occur when the muscles contract suddenly during vigorous exercise.
If you injure your calf muscle it is important to stop cycling and not to put any weight on your leg. As soon as you can, rest and cool the area with an ice pack or cold water. Put a towel between the pack and your skin to avoid injury. Apply a compression bandage and elevate the lower leg.
Treatment and recovery
It is important to listen to your body as it starts to heal. Pain is a signal to stop and you should not push through the pain or you risk slowing the healing process.
You may need to use crutches initially until you are able to put weight on your injured leg. As the pain lessens, elbow crutches may help you to start using your leg. Heel lifts in both shoes can help for a couple of weeks as they ease the load on the calf muscles as you walk.
Swimming or gentle cycling is a good way to increase the flow of blood to the muscles to promote healing. It will be a boost to your confidence to get back on your bike while your muscles are healing but be careful not to overdo it.
It can be beneficial to have a daily routine of stretching the short and long calf muscles and the feet to promote healing and restore flexibility. For example, try bending the front knee and stretching the other leg out behind you with the foot flat on the floor.
As you start to regain strength in your leg you can take small, quick steps on the spot, alternating from one foot to the next. Over time you can increase this to a gentle jog.
Prevention of calf muscle injuries when cycling
It can be a long road to recovery with ruptured calf muscles and prevention is undoubtedly the best course of action. To avoid injuring your muscles while cycling it is worth:
- Warming up thoroughly with gentle exercise before you set out and cooling down for 10-15 minutes afterwards with some calf muscle stretches.
- Building up gradually. As tempting as it is to start the season with a long cycle ride, it will be better for your muscles to start slowly and build up.
- Wear warm clothing. Early spring can be cold, and even summer’s evenings can turn chilly. Make sure you wear enough layers as warm muscles and tendons are far better able to withstand pulling and traction forces than cold ones.
- Massage your calf muscles if they feel stiff or tense.
- Exercise your calf muscles regularly and also allow them sufficient rest.
If you are a keen cyclist you may be participating in the Cambridge 100 bike ride in aid of prostate cancer, on Sunday 29 April. Enjoy the cycling!