Calves and Ankles are Hurting

Published: May 14, 2012
Dear TeenHealthFX,


I'm a 19 year old female at an average weight. For the past two days, I had to walk a LOT. Most of the walking was definitely up hills and stairs. Now my calves and ankles are hurting. I get shaky in my ankles when I stand and I usually feel like I'm going to fall. What should I do to help relax them? How do I know if I didn't pull a muscle? Thank you!



Signed: Calves and Ankles are Hurting

Dear Calves and Ankles are Hurting,


After participating in strenuous physical activity, particularly something strenuous or an activity that your body isn’t used to doing, it is common to experience muscle soreness. Since your activity involved “a LOT” of walking and climbing it is understandable why you are experiencing pain in your calves and ankles. You are giving a good description of what is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).


Here are some suggestions that can help reduce your discomfort and hopefully speed up your recovery:


·         Stretching and gentle active motion– This is best done once your body has been warmed up, when the muscles are warm and pliable, like after a walk or other activity that results in you sweating a little. For stretching your calves in particular, stand facing a wall at about an arm’s distance away, and place your palms on the wall. With toes pointing forward, step your right leg backward about 2 feet and press your right heel into the floor until you feel a gentle stretch along the back of your lower right leg and calf. Hold for 20-30 seconds; do 2-3 reps. Switch legs and repeat.

·         Ice - Ice is great for preventing sore muscles, and for treating them as well. The cool temperature reduces inflammation,  and helps reduce muscle soreness. You can make your own ice packs by mixing rubbing alcohol with water and then freezing it in zippered freezer bags. The alcohol keeps the water from freezing solidly, leaving you with a flexible ice pack. It is usually best to put ice on for 10-15 minutes soon after activity and you can repeat the application every hour or two if you wish. Do not put ice directly on the skin as you can get frostbite so you should put a thin piece of cloth between the ice and your skin.

·         Epsom salts - Epsom salts contain Magnesium which is especially good for muscle spasms and soreness. Add a couple of cups to your bathwater and soak for 15 - 20 minutes. Warm tub soaks before activity or before a massage can be very relaxing and help reduce muscle soreness but you should not usually put heat on any area that has recently been injured, especially if there is any redness, warmth, or swelling of that part of the body.

·         Massage - Massaging and rubbing your sore muscles helps remove the lactic acid that is causing your soreness.


Poorly fitting or the wrong kind of footwear can lead to pain in your feet and sore calves, even if you’re ‘just walking’. Your shoes should fit well. They should be snug in the heel and have a fingers-worth of space between your longest toe and the tip of your shoes. Shoes that are too small or too big can leave you more susceptible to injury. Your shoes should have adequate shock absorption to take some of the stress off your feet and lower extremities. You could take your shoes to a specialty running/walking store, a podiatrist, or sports medicine professional for an evaluation.


A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. They are often called ‘pulled muscles’.  Calf muscles push the foot down when they contract and attach to the foot by the Achilles tendon. Muscle and tendon strains are commonly rated in three categories:


·         Grade 1: Micro-tears in muscle or tendon tissue with an approximate 2-week recovery.

·         Grade 2: Partially torn muscle fibers with an approximate 5-8 week recovery.

·         Grade 3: Full tear or rupture of muscle fibers with an approximate 3-4 month recovery, perhaps requiring surgery.


Chances are your muscles are just sore from over exertion but if you are experiencing significant swelling, redness, bruising, or warmth in your legs, or if you are unable to walk due to significant pain or if the pain persists more than 3-4 days, then you should be seen by a doctor, preferably an physician who specializes in this type of injury (physiatrist, orthopedist, or sports medicine specialist).





Signed: TeenHealthFX