Sore calves are an almost unavoidable part of any hiking trip, as any experienced hiker knows. You push yourself to your limits, climbing higher and covering more ground than ever before. The views from the mountaintop were worth it, but your calves are begging for mercy. What if there was a way to avoid developing sore muscles in the first place? Or to hasten your recovery if you’re already in pain?
Sore Calves After Hiking
Turns out, there are a few ways in which you can help prevent your calf muscles from being sore after hiking, and we’re going to tell you just how in this guide.
But first, we have to wonder what causes sore calves after hiking. Many hikers are familiar with the pain and stiffness in their calves’ muscles the day after a hike. But what causes this achy sensation, and is there anything you can do to avoid it? Let’s look at some of the most common causes of calf soreness after hiking and offer some prevention advice.
Working your body too hard can result in DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness. When you work out your muscles, they undergo hypertrophy, which is the process by which your muscles rebuild or grow larger. DOMS refers to the pain you experience while this is happening.
To decrease the pain caused by DOMS, there are a few things you can do.
- Ibuprofen or a similar anti-inflammatory medication
- Bath with ice. It’s not the first thing I’d try, but there’s a reason athletes willingly submerge at least parts of their bodies in icy water. Studies show that icing muscles soon after overexertion can reduce inflammation and slow muscle growth, both of which contribute to soreness.
- Massage for Sports. While no one is certain that massage can speed up muscle recovery, studies have shown promise. Swedish massage, according to Ohio State University researchers, reduced inflammation and muscle damage.
Lactic Acid Build Up
The majority of people are unaware of the existence of lactic acid. It’s a type of chemically created when your body breaks down glucose for energy and produces pyruvic acid, which then reacts with water to form lactic acid.
Lactic acids are generally removed from your body through respiration and circulation when you are at rest. However, if you don’t give your body a chance to eliminate the chemicals, they can accumulate in various parts of your body.
If you’ve ever had sore calves after hiking or working out, it could be due to an accumulation of this substance. Lactate accumulates when there is insufficient oxygen to fuel the muscles and produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which provides energy for movement. When your muscles work hard, lactic acid is produced and accumulates in them. Your calves are one of the most worked muscles in your leg when hiking, especially when hiking uphill. That steep incline you just climbed is likely to cause some lactic acid buildup.
There are a few things you can do to get rid of the lactic acid buildup.
- Before you go on your hike, drink some orange juice. A study found that drinking orange juice before a workout can reduce lactate levels by 27% and reduce muscle fatigue.
- Keep hydrated. Preventing sore calves by staying hydrated before, during, and after a hike. Water helps to flush out lactic acid and can help prevent muscle cramps.
- Breathe. According to a clinical trial conducted by the Vemana Yoga Research Institute, a controlled breathing technique known as pranayama can help reduce lactate levels.
- Continue to Move. Staying mobile after an intense hike can help your body clear lactic acid faster than resting. According to a 2014 study, active recovery is far more effective than passive recovery in preventing sore muscles.
Any movement that raises your heel off the ground engages your calf muscle. When hiking uphill, you’re also working against gravity, forcing your muscles to work harder to propel you forward. Walking uphill may cause you to experience more calf pain because your feet and ankles have a greater range of motion. This causes your calves and legs to work much harder to propel your body upward and forward, becoming fatigued faster than if you were in a flat area or traveling downhill.
Instead of attempting to ascend an incline head-on, try walking in a zig-zag across the trail, creating tiny switchbacks for yourself, to help relieve calf tightness and pain while hiking uphill. Take your time walking uphill and take frequent breaks to allow your muscles to rest and recoup some oxygen.
Wear proper-fitting hiking shoes with high-quality insoles to provide support for your feet, ankles, and calves.
I’ll never forget the first time I got a calf cramp. I awoke with the most excruciating pain in the back of my leg. I sat up instinctively and tried to pull my feet towards me so I could grab my calf. The pain increased as I drew my foot back, so I shot my leg straight out and leaned forward to try to hold my calf. Leaning forward, the pain vanished as quickly as it appeared. Stretching toward your toes is one of the quickest ways to relieve a calf cramp. That was the worst calf cramp I’ve ever had, and my muscle was sore for the next couple of days.
Some things that can cause your calf muscles to cramp are as follows.
- Muscle fatigue
- Too much exercise
- Inadequate electrolytes
- Not stretching enough
Remedies for Sore Calves
It’s normal to have sore calves after a hike, but here are some remedies to help relieve the discomfort. These tips can help if you have delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or just general fatigue.
- Cold Treatment
Applying an ice pack to your calf for 15-20 minutes at a time can provide relief.
- Foam Rollers
A foam roller is an excellent tool for self-massage of the calf. By leaning your weight, you can locate the most painful muscle knots and apply pressure to them, either on the inside or outside of the calf muscles.
Swelling can be reduced by resting and elevating your leg. This works well in conjunction with the ice pack method mentioned above.
How to Prevent Sore Calves
Nothing beats the sense of accomplishment that comes with a long hike. However, sore calves can put a damper on things. Before you start hiking, here are a few tips to help prevent sore calves.
Stretching is one of the simplest ways to avoid sore calves after a hike. Before you hit the trail, stretch it out.
These are some of the best stretches for your calves
Stand a few inches away from a wall or tree, with your elbows about eye level on the wall for support. Then, take a step back with your right foot and straighten your knee, keeping your heel on the ground. If your heel cannot touch the ground, move your right foot forward slightly. Sink down and forward slightly into your hips to feel the stretch in your calf.
Hold for 15-25 seconds before repeating on the opposite side. For maximum benefit, repeat the entire process 2-3 times.
Soleus Heel Drop Stretch
Hold on to a handrail, chair, counter, or something else for balance as you stand on the edge of a step with your heel(s) hanging off the edge. Sink your heels down while keeping your knees straight, and lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch.
Hold for 15-25 seconds and repeat on the other side. Then repeat the whole process 2-3 times.
Soleus Muscle Stretch
As with the gastrocnemius stretch, stand facing a wall with one foot forward and one foot back. Instead of straightening the back leg and knee, we will bend both knees while keeping the heels on the floor this time. Then, bring your hips and chest forward, towards the wall, until you feel a stretch in your back leg’s calf.
Hold for 15-25 seconds before repeating on the opposite side. Then repeat the process 2-3 times more.
Wearing the Right Footwear
Supportive footwear keeps the bones in your feet and ankles aligned, relieving strain on your muscles. Insoles can also help to add support. Look for firm, non-gel insoles that cup your heel to prevent heel slippage. I’ve tried a variety of insoles, and while I prefer the squishy gel ones for everyday use, I’ve discovered that solid ones are far superior for hiking or walking on uneven or lumpy terrain.
Drinking water or electrolyte drinks helps prevent muscle cramping and keeps your body hydrated enough to perform optimally.
Stretching After the Hike
Cool down with another stretch session after a strenuous or long hike.
I hope you found this hiking article useful! It’s critical to remember how your muscles feel at the end of the day and know what steps to take to relax them. Take it easy on yourself and take care of those tired calves by following our advice. You deserve it after all you’ve accomplished!