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Mad calf disease

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Tue Jul 21 2009

Mad Calf Disease is annoying and if you're north of 40 years in age you'll catch it sooner or later.

When I was younger my calves might get sore. This, through the first run of the year in spikes or racing flats. Or, after a track workout featuring shorter, faster intervals. That's not "mad calf" and, in any case, this soreness lasts a few days, not several weeks (as is the case with mad calf disease).

What I'm referring to happens at any speed, but generally to runners in or entering their 40s or 50s. Whether middle-agers new to running, or those returning to the sport of their youth, that maddening pull or strain accompanying a run even at the slowest of paces will take weeks to mend every time it strikes.

This doesn't typically happen to younger runners. Why us oldsters? The extra weight we carry? Probably not, because this did not happen to us in our youth while carrying water bottle packs, or running uphill. Less elastic, or less capable, soft and connective tissue? Maybe.

In my experience, it's metabolic. But it took me years to realize it. What starts out as an apparent strain, getting worse as I continue to run on it, is not a strain at all. It's a spasm. But it's minor, and doesn't seem like a cramp. It's not an injury when it first manifests itself, but it becomes one if and if and when I continue to run.

The solution? When you feel it, stop running and start walking. Walk for another minute after the sensation goes away. Resume running. If it comes back later in the run, repeat the remedy. If you do this, your calves will remain whole.

Why did I not discover the solution for better than a decade after first experiencing this? Because I never used to truncate a run I just ran through a calf strain. Sometimes, the solution above is inconvenient. What if it happens in a race? Then you have a choice: save your race, or save your calf.


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Mad Calf Disease 1 out of 5 stars

One solution

Reviewed by: Brad, Jul 2 2011 4:07PM

I was first stricken w/Mad Calf Disease in my mid-forties; I'm now 52. I've seen numerous ortho-docs & P.T.s, none of whom can specifically identify what is causing intense stabbing pain in my right calf. It hit me out of nowhere and stopped my running for several years. After dropping out of the Carpinteria Tri in frustration, I limped to the 2XU booth and bought a pair of calf compression leggings (as opposed to the full sock which goes from below knee and covers foot). The legging goes from below knee to ankle. I was told to wear the leggings AFTER running for recovery but the pain wouldn't allow me to run at all, so I tried running WITH the legging on and it was like a miracle. I could actually run again, though tentatively and w/some limitation. There is post-run pain but no worse than before. After using the leggings for awhile, I can generally run w/o them but carry one along just in case. There are other brands besides 2XU but I haven't tried them. Hope this helps someone else start running again.

mad calf 4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Tom, Sep 14 2010 12:23PM

Very helpful stuff - I'm looking for more information and help! Any other articles anyone can refer me to? I just completed a tri where I "ran through" a calf attack and now I'm in trouble. I had successful achilles tendon repair on the problem leg 3 years ago, and have been attributing the calf troubles to general lingering tightness in that calf. Having read the above responses and being 52 years old, I'm thinking it's NOT a post surgery effect.

mad calf 3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: Paul Keefer, Sep 7 2010 3:21PM

Follow this recovery from 'the stick'. It worked for me big time. Also, I now incorporated simple stretching of both calf muscles (45 seconds on each stretch 3 times a day).

Mad Calf 5 out of 5 stars


Reviewed by: Martin Meyer, Sep 4 2010 5:51PM

Mad calf ruined the 2009 season but this year I'm "strain" free. What am I doing different? Stretching my hamstrings, drinking tonic water(quinine), & running on my fore-foot (no heal strikes).

Mad Calf 5 out of 5 stars


Reviewed by: Jim Cunningham, Jul 3 2010 4:35PM

Ouch! I ran the recent Mountain Goat Run and I had a bazaar sensation in my calf at the 2 mile mark; I kept running; mistake! It hurt, but I figured if I could keep running with out a limp, I would be fine. At the end of the race my son, Jim, said, "Dad your calf is swollen." He is a PT; he got me a bag of ice. Damage was curtailed Recently, just walking I had the the same feeling in the opposite calf, same spot. Strange! Dr. Jim has me do eccentric calf exercises. With one foot on the edge of a stair, I do heal drops. I also use a foam roller to break up scar tissue.

Good thread! I see that others have the same experience and I am finding the RX helpful.

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