What Would Cause Calves in Legs to Tighten Up?

Updated February 21, 2017

Tight calf muscles pose a common problem for runners and other athletes. The calf muscles consist of the large gastrocnemius muscle and the deeper soleus muscle. When these muscles tighten up, even everyday activities, such as walking, can become painful. The calf muscles may tighten up gradually and loosen up during running, or may tighten up or spasm only during running. According to The Sports Injury Clinic, most cases of calf tightening can be treated by stretching or sports massage.

High-Heeled Shoes

High-heeled shoes hold the calf muscles in a shortened position for hours, while the wearer may walk great distances and up stairs. After prolonged time in this position, the calf muscles shorten and become tight, especially when they are challenged by flat-soled shoes that require the muscle to stretch into a normal position. Wearers of high-heeled shoes suffering from tight calves should stretch their calf muscles frequently and thoroughly and remove the shoes for a stretch whenever possible --- for example, when seated at a desk.


Runners and athletes, especially those who run frequently or uphill may experience overuse injuries. Overuse may result in micro tears in the calf muscles that cause them to spasm, cutting off blood flow, which can lead to further tightening. Overuse injuries to the soleus muscle are common, and may be accompanied by pain in the mid-calf region. The Sports Injury Clinic recommends ice, ibuprofen and rest to allow the calf muscles to recover from injury, followed by maintenance of a reasonable exercise plan that includes plenty of stretching. Anyone who has experienced a calf injury or swelling should consult a medical professional.

Lateral Compartment Syndrome

Athletes, or anyone who trains rapidly and intensively --- such as for a marathon --- may experience calf tightening as a result of lateral compartment syndrome. Calf muscles essentially outgrow the connective tissue sheath that surrounds them, causing the sheath to press on the muscles resulting in tightness and pain. This syndrome may also be caused by traumatic injuries, when bleeding or swelling causes the muscle to tighten within the sheath. The Sports Injury Clinic recommends sports massage to help loosen the sheath while the athlete undergoes a period of rest from exercise.

Biomechanical Imbalance

The muscles of the human bodywork to stabilise joints so that other muscles are able to function properly and often serve as opposing forces that perform two halves of a movement. Sports training and weightlifting may result in imbalances, and muscle weakness in one area of the body may result in overexertion of another area. The Flexibility Coach and The Sports Injury Clinic recommend strengthening the shin muscles to properly balance the lower leg and strengthening the thigh and hip muscles to stabilise the joints of the leg and improve function.

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About the Author

Emmalise Mac has been writing professionally since 2006 and her work has been published online, in newsletters, newspapers and scientific journals and in wildlife guidebooks. She has published on topics including wildlife, pets and pet health, science, gardening, outdoor activities and crafts. She holds Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in biology.