Why Leg Cramps Occur While & After Running – Treatments & Prevention

Leg cramps; those painful and dreaded involuntary muscle contractions are a common occurrence in the lives of most athletes, especially runners. Frequent experience of calf pain and sore muscles while running can hinder your training and overall performance. If you constantly experience leg pain from running or those sore and cramping calves are getting in the way of your training, you can utilize some of these helpful tips that can prevent leg pain and treat your sore muscles that result from running.

What causes muscle soreness from running?

Muscle soreness from running, generally sets in about 24 to 48 hours after strenuous exercise. This condition, referred to as DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, can affect different regions of your body in different capacities. Symptoms of DOMS such as stiff calf muscles and foot pain, to overall muscle soreness within the body due to running, usually go away on their own after a few days but there are a few things you can do to help reduce your muscle soreness after running.

What causes sore calves after/while running?

The most common form of muscle soreness experienced by runners is calf pain. You are bound to be well versed in sore and cramping calf muscles if you have been running for a while. Maybe you have already tried every piece of advice available to you but to no avail.

You’ve been told to eat bananas to ensure the required potassium and magnesium intake is met. You were told to take additional salt to balance the loss of sodium through excessive sweating. Yet nothing seems to have worked to alleviate the leg pain and calf cramps while running nor the excruciating muscle pain and leg soreness that sets in after a run.

You wonder why this keeps happening to you. Why do your calves cramp up and hurt while running? And what might possibly be its cause?

Cramps vary in their severity and the cause of cramping can differ based on individual strength, training style and muscle function.

Based on scientific research the two most common causes of sore calves and cramping from running are muscle fatigue and loss of electrolytes together with dehydration[1]. Let us examine these conditions in a bit more detail.

Muscle fatigue

Muscle fatigue can occur due to various reasons. For instance, if your muscles are being overused and pushed to beyond their capability, they can easily get overloaded. This may occur if you are running in unfamiliar environmental conditions or are increasing the intensity of your workouts at too fast a pace without allowing the necessary time for your muscles to fully recover[2]. Repeated and extended use of a particular muscle group can result in muscle overloading and fatigue cramps[3] as well as leg pain after a run.

According to research done by a professor of athletic training at Central Michigan University, Kevin D. Miller, PhD, the majority of runners that experienced cramping, did so during either the last segment of a long-distance run or after a race. His research proves that the longer the run and the more strenuous the run, the chances of experiencing muscle fatigue and as a result muscle cramping is far higher for a runner.

Dehydration and loss of electrolytes

Electrolyte imbalance is common during extensive periods of sweating. Sodium and chlorides lost through sweat are not replenished instantly, resulting initially in sore calves and legs during running which leads to gradual onset cramping in your muscles. In addition, the underlying cause of electrolyte imbalance is dehydration as the lack of water prevents the muscles from absorbing the electrolytes it requires into the system.

How to avoid calf cramps while running?

While there is no hard and fast rule dictating the onset of muscle cramps, there are a few steps you can implement into your routine to prevent your legs from cramping during a run.

Condition your body

Muscle cramps are not as common among athletes who have properly conditioned their bodies for extended periods of physical training[4]. Especially if you are taking up running after a break, it is important to start at a low-intensity training and gradually work your way up in order to prevent leg cramps while running.

Adequate hydration

While it is important to keep your body well hydrated, you must ensure to not overdo it. If you are doing long distance running and you expect to be on your feet for over an hour, it is good to calculate how much water your body loses during a session by weighing yourself before and after a run. It is recommended that you consume 20 ounces of water for every pound that is lost during a workout[5]. You can avoid getting foot cramps from running by providing your body with adequate hydration throughout the day.

Replace lost electrolytes

As you sweat, you lose a considerable amount of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. You may want to consider the use of energy supplements prior to training or salt tabs to replenish those lost electrolytes in order to stop your calves from cramping during a run.

Compression therapy

Compression devices help reduce the load on your calf muscles during the exercises and is good at preventing muscle fatigue. It increases the blood circulation in your legs and ensures that the blood is kept oxidized in that region, hence wearing it during your training sessions can decrease the risk of cramping on your calves and legs and help to avoid leg pain while running.


Always conduct a 5–10-minute stretch and warm-up prior to running to avoid muscle cramping. If you feel the onset of a leg cramp during running, do some gentle stretching of the muscle that is straining to provide some comfort. The muscle will remain tight even after the cramp has subsided so you should continue to stretch it out at intervals.

Avoid Calf Cramps While Running

Calf Muscle Tear

Ignoring your calf muscle soreness and overusing it when it requires rest can lead to detrimental effects such as muscle strain and tears. If you experience lingering pain that spans several days or the kind of leg pain that is gradually getting worse as time passes, chances are that it is more than a sore or cramping muscle. If this is the case, you may have a calf muscle tear or a muscle strain in the respective region.

The recovery time for a torn calf muscle is dependent upon the severity of the injury. Calf muscle tears can be graded from I to III based on their severity as expressed below[6]:

Grade I – you may experience sharp pain at the time of activity with a possible feeling of tightness with or without pain. This may be followed by mild discomfort and aching sensation post-training. While it is possible to continue the activity post a Grade I calf muscle tear, it is recommended that you rest your strained leg muscles for at least 10 days.

Grade II - Experiencing immediate sharp pain with inability to continue activity may just be symptoms of a Grade II calf muscle tear. You may witness some mild swelling or bruising in the region and it is recommended that you seek medical assistance to better understand the severity of your condition and the treatments that need to be taken.

Grade III – An injury of this scale can keep you off the tracks for about 6 months, which is the average recovery time from a Grade III tear of a calf muscle. It leads to severe pain with the inability to contract your calf muscle. There is bound to be bruising and swelling just hours after injury and you would be unable to continue the activity. You have to seek immediate medical attention if you are to experience these symptoms of torn calf muscles.

How to treat calf muscle soreness/calf cramps after running?

Proper nutrition

One of the main contributors to fatigued muscles is glycogen depletion. Your daily food intake must amount to a healthy and balanced diet that can replenish your body. Your diet should include sufficient carbohydrates to help replace your glycogen stores that were used up during the run, and it should entail adequate proteins that allow your body to repair and recover post-training. Providing these necessary nutrients will allow your body to recover faster and reduce the muscle soreness that occurs from running in the process.

Stretching after a run

Once your training has concluded, conduct at least 10 minutes of static stretching targeting your quads, hamstrings, calves and hips[7]. Extend this to any other region that felt tight during your training to prevent delayed onset cramping. Stretching post training can help alleviate muscle soreness and prevent DOMS from occurring.

Try an ice bath

Immersing yourself in an ice bath post-training is known to speed up your recovery process and is the perfect relaxing home remedy for reducing leg pain from running. If a bath of ice feels a bit too much, at least try to have a cold-water shower and keep ice packs on sore areas for about 10 minutes to provide some relief. Keep in mind, icing the soreness away works only with the onset of a leg cramp. If your pain and soreness lasts for days after you train, you need to use heat packs instead in order to increase the blood flow in the region.

Practice Yoga

Practicing some gentle yoga is the ideal home remedy for leg pain as it provides an excellent form of relaxing your sore muscles after a strenuous run. The different poses allow you to stretch out your stiff muscles from running, and the breathing techniques encourage better blood circulation and oxygenation within your body.

Try a massage

If you have the time and the resources to do so, book yourself a sports massage through a professional that can provide great assistance in easing the pain from delayed onset muscle strain. An ideal treatment for leg pain, a massage can increase blood circulation and encourage leg recovery after a run.

Why Active Compression Tools are The Better Solution

The purpose of compression devices is to increase blood flow within the regions of the body that are strained from exertion, leading to fast recovery from sore muscles. The benefits of leg compression therapy and muscle recovery tools are plenty and they are ideal solutions for accelerating your recovery process.

SPRYNG active compression wraps are the better alternative for old-school compression socks. SPRYNG uses a dynamic wavetec pattern that aids blood circulation through the use of external pneumatic compression. This leads to increased oxygenation within the muscle tissues by releasing any lactic acids that are built up in your sore calf muscles leading to recovery from pain and stiffness in your legs.

Unlike other muscle recovery tools, SPRYNG offers you a compact, portable and stylish solution that is accessible to you anytime, anywhere and it offers fast and effective recovery for your sore leg muscles from running.



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