I get asked this question all the time, their is no short answer because everyones reasons are different. Here are a few that I will go through.
Lets start with the younger folk amongst us! Growing up, we spout at different times during puberty which if you are unlucky to grow super fast all of a sudden can be the root of various bits of 'growing pains' throughout the body. The bones have the ability to grow at a faster rate than the soft tissue which can cause excruciating pain as our bodies learn and grow to adjust. Do you ever remember having pains in your legs as a teenager and the adults around you would just pass it off as simple 'growing pains' and you should just deal with it. Yup, you have probably been a victim of the above bone growing epidemic! For a lot of people this starts from the foot. The bones in the feet grow and the plantar fascia (sheet of connective tissue which helps hold your foot with its natural arch) doesn't grow at the same rate so becomes taught. This can then radiate up into the achilles tendon because the heel has tension on it from the plantar fascia and so this transfers to other immediately affected soft tissue. This same affect happens in the lower limbs, arms and even our backs. These pains can continue well into your 20's so don't just think that once you turn 18 you stop growing, because you don't. Ways to manage the pain are with anything that heats up the soft tissue and makes it feel more relaxed. This could be massage, heat packs, hot water bottles, hot baths or wearing compression clothes as this increases blood flow to the right areas and also offers protection where inflation might be an issue.
Right lets go back to everyone else who isn't suffering with growing pains. Do you notice the tight calves when you have no shoes on? If you do then this may apply to you.
Most of the shoes made these days have a slight increase where the heel sits. This is mainly for comfort, helps the foot roll more effectively when walking and offers protection from the surface we are walking on. whilst the shoes are on, the calves are usually ok. It is when we take the shoes off and put the sliders on or the slippers or even barefoot that you notice the tightness. This is because we are now going back to a minimal base which means the leg muscles are lengthened again. This would be ok if we spent most of the day walking around minimal but we dont, we spend most of the day with the heeled shoes, even you lads! You can help yourself with these symptoms by changing your footwear to various heel gradients, stretching your lower leg muscles, and massage too.
For everyone else, the reasons vary, one of them being achilles tendinopathy. This is were repetitive micro traumas have occurred through weight bearing exercises, e.g running and weight training.
If you run with shoes that have a heel just be mindful that you will probably have the feeling of tight calves every time you go barefoot, this is normal. I'm not entirely convinced any amount of stretching will help this unless you spend most of the rest of your time in minimal or barefoot shoes.
For the girls, the transgenders and those that wear heels, you calves are going to be shortened more than most. This obviously depends on how often you wear this type of shoe but in general, expect to have tight calves or calves of steel for walking around on your toes all day.
So what can you do to help yourself?
I have mentioned them before but no harm in mentioning them again. Compression socks/sleeves are amazing for promoting blood flow and reducing inflammation during exercise. Their is not a chance I could have ran the whole way on Sunday without wearing mine. My legs felt like they were going to explode at mile 8 but the sleeves saved me and kept me going. With some light stretches afterwards and some rest, my calves feel amazing however I can not say the same for my thighs!!
Doing calve stretches daily from the moment you wake up will help too. When stretching, make sure you go into the stretch slowly and hold each stretch for 30 seconds to 2 minutes long. this might sound excessive however recent studies have shown that a stretch less than 30 seconds is almost pointless.
Keep you legs as mobile as you can throughout the day, this includes your ankles when I say this. Even if you work at a desk all day, try just rotating your ankles in both directions. This small movement gets the muscles moving.
If you do feel tightness which is coming from your feet, start with using some ice to reduce the swelling that may of occurred. This will also bring the temperature down if you have a strain in the fascia. Use ice for 20 minutes every 2 hours or as close to this as you can. you may need to take anti inflammatory medication but this is based on what you can and cant take. If you feel like it is just a matter of it being tight rather than a strain, rolling a ball underneath your foot will help a lot. This will help break up adhesions, massage the foot and make it easier for you to put weight on the foot again.
A good old fashioned leg massage will so the trick too. Massage combined with needling is one of my favourite treatments for tight calves as the relief is almost instant in most cases.
Dry cupping is another great modality however it can be difficult to treat the intricate areas around the ankle.
I hope you have got some useful info from this write up, if you have any questions or concerns then please message me. Have a great day!