Discover the Secret to Banishing Sore Calves After Hiking: Tips from a Physical Therapist

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Say Goodbye to Sore Calves After Hiking: Tips and Tricks from a Physical Therapist and Hiking Addict

Well hello there, fellow hikers! I’m Dr. Morgan, a physical therapist of 15+ years and a passionate hiker. You could say I’m a bit of a hiking addict – I love nothing more than hitting the trails all over Europe and beyond. My favorite place to explore is definitely the Dolomites, but with all the steep terrain I have had my fair share of sore calves.

man hiking with sore calves
Hiking around Germany on a “klettersteig” or Via Ferrata. You’ll need some crazy strong calves for that kind of extreme hiking.

That feeling of tightness and discomfort that makes you walk like a newborn giraffe – yep, been there, done that.

But fear not, my Nature lovers! I’m here to share my expert tips and tricks on how to deal with sore calves and get back to doing what we love most – exploring the great outdoors. So grab a cup of tea (or a cold beer, I won’t judge), and let’s dive into the wonderful world of calf care.

Related Posts Written by a Physical Therapist Hiking Addict:

Causes of Sore Calves After Hiking

Hiking, especially on uneven terrain or carrying a heavy backpack, can put a lot of stress on your calf muscles you can feel super sore calves after hiking. The muscles in your calves (gastrocnemius and soleus) are responsible for lifting your heel and pushing off the ground with each step.

When you hike, these muscles are constantly contracting and lengthening to propel you forward, causing micro-tears in the muscle fibers and calf pain after hiking.

When to self-treat versus when to seek medical attention for common calf problems related to hiking and sore calves from hiking:

Symptom/ConditionSelf-Treat at HomeSeek Medical Attention
Mild soreness or stiffnessRest, ice and heat therapy, massage, foam rolling, over-the-counter pain medicationsNone needed, unless symptoms worsen or don’t improve after a few days
Moderate pain or discomfortAll of the above, plus consider taking a break from hiking for a few daysDoctor visit if pain persists for more than a week, or if pain is severe and accompanied by swelling or bruising
Muscle strain or tearRest, ice and heat therapy, compression, elevation, over-the-counter pain medicationsDoctor visit if pain is severe or debilitating, or if there is a noticeable lump or deformity in the calf
Blood clot or deep vein thrombosis (DVT)Seek medical attention immediately, do not self-treatDoctor visit if you experience swelling, redness, or warmth in the calf, or if you have a history of blood clots or DVT
Nerve damageRest, ice and heat therapy, over-the-counter pain medications, and see a doctor for further evaluation and treatmentDoctor visit if you experience numbness, tingling, weakness, or difficulty walking in addition to soreness in the calf
This is NOT medical advice.

Remember, this is just an example and individual conditions may vary.

Factors that contribute to sore calves after hiking include:

Overexertion – Don’t be a Weekend Warrior

Pushing yourself too hard or doing a hike that is too difficult for your current fitness level can lead to calf muscle pain after hiking. It’s important to gradually increase the intensity and duration of your hikes to avoid overexertion.

Pain is usually the first signal that we are fatigued and calf pain after hiking downhill can be the worst (especially as we get older)!

How long does it REALLY take to hike?

If you plan ahead to have enough daylight and gradually work your way up, hiking longer distances is totally achieveable. Calves are really put to the test with hiking (have you noticed how awesome hiker’s calves are??).

Read this article to estimate your hiking times and distances based on fitness level and terrain.


Hiking can be a strenuous activity, especially if you’re in a hot, dry climate. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps and soreness. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your hike.

💦 Need to bring water on the trail? Consider bringing a reusable water bottle, water filtration system, water bladder for your backpack or purification tablets.

Improper Footwear and Gear

Wearing the wrong shoes or carrying a heavy backpack can put extra strain on your calf muscles.

  • Make sure to wear comfortable, supportive shoes with good traction and consider using trekking poles to help distribute the weight of your backpack.
  • Sore calves after walking down stairs or hiking downhill can be caused from a shoe that is too tight in the toe box, laces are too tight or improper sizing. This can also cause painful toes on the downhills.

By understanding the causes of sore calves after hiking, you can take steps to prevent them and ensure that you’re properly caring for your body on the trail.

Prevention of Sore Calves After Hiking

sore calves after hiking

Prevention is key when it comes to avoiding sore calves after hiking and shin splints from hiking. Doms in calves are no joke! Doms = Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and that is why the third day soreness on a multi-day hike is the worst!

Here are some tips to keep your calves in good shape and how to relieve sore muscles after hiking:

Stretching Exercises

Stretching before and after your hike can help prevent sore calf muscles after hiking. Focus on stretching your calf muscles by doing calf raises, lunges, and downward dog stretches.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Take the time to warm up and cool down properly before and after your hike. This can include a light jog, brisk walk, or some stretching exercises to avoid calf pain while hiking.

Gradual Increase in Difficulty

Avoid pushing yourself too hard by gradually increasing the difficulty of your hikes over time. Start with easier hikes and work your way up to more challenging ones.

Proper Footwear and Gear

Wearing the right shoes and using proper gear can help prevent hiking calf pain and sore knees after hiking. Choose shoes with good arch support and traction, and use trekking poles to help distribute the weight of your backpack.

By taking these preventative measures, you can minimize the risk of sore calves after hiking and enjoy a more comfortable and rewarding experience on the trail.

–6 Things to Do If You’re Experiencing Sore Calves After Hiking

Even with proper preventative measures, it’s still possible to experience sore calves after a hike. This is not medical advice. Listen to your body, rest when needed, and don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if the pain persists.

By doing so, you’ll be able to get back to hiking and enjoying the great outdoors in no time.If you’re feeling discomfort in your calves, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the pain:

1. Rest

The first thing you should do if you’re experiencing sore calves is to take a break from hiking. Resting will give your muscles time to heal and recover.

This is one of the hardest things to do for us, but the most essential.

Sleep is the one thing that will make you better at everything. Read my article on how to get better at sleep, naturally.

Consider alternative, low impact cardio like a stationary bike instead of more hiking for exercise. Pool based exercise can also be helpful in aiding recovery.

2. Ice and Heat Therapy

Applying ice to your calves can help reduce inflammation and pain. Use a cold compress or ice pack wrapped in a towel for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.

After a few days, switch to heat therapy by using a heating pad or warm towel to increase blood flow and promote healing.

An epsom salt bath can help aid recovery. Simply fill your bathtub with warm water and add salts. Soak for 20 minutes.

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3. Massage

Gently massaging your calves can help reduce tension and soreness. Use your fingers, handheld massage tool or an electric cordless massage gun to apply pressure to your calf muscles, starting from your ankle and working your way up towards your knee.

Do you have a hiking trip planned and have persistently SORE CALVES? You can bring an electric, cordless massage gun on the plane with you to treat yourself nightly.

Check Price for TSA Approved Cordless Massage Gun

4. Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking any medication. This is not medical advice.

5. Foam Rolling

Another effective way to alleviate sore calves after hiking is by using a foam roller. Foam rolling is a type of self-massage that targets the trigger points in your muscles, which can help reduce tension and soreness but often a calf massage hurts – but it’s typically a “good hurt”.

To reduce sore muscles after hiking use a foam roller, sit on the ground with the foam roller under your calves. Use your arms to lift your body off the ground and roll the foam roller up and down your calves, focusing on any areas that feel tight or tender.

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You can adjust the pressure by shifting your weight on the foam roller. Spend 1-2 minutes on each calf, or until you feel a release in the muscle tension.

Foam rolling can be done before or after a hike, or both. It’s a great way to keep your calves healthy and ready for your next adventure on the trail.

Video Foam Rolling for Calf Pain Hiking

Remember, sore calves after hiking are a common issue and nothing to be ashamed of. Taking care of your body after a hike is just as important as taking care of it during the hike.

When to Seek Medical Attention

In most cases, sore calves after hiking can be treated at home with rest, ice and heat therapy, massage, and over-the-counter pain medications. Always seek medical advice if you are unsure or experience extreme leg pain after hiking. However, there are times when you should seek medical attention for your sore calves, such as:

  1. Severe Pain: If the pain in your calves is severe and not improving with home remedies, it’s important to see a doctor. Severe pain could be a sign of a more serious injury, such as a muscle tear or strain.
  2. Swelling: If your calves are swollen and tender to the touch, it could be a sign of a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Seek medical attention immediately if you experience swelling or redness in your calves.
  3. Numbness or Tingling: If you experience numbness or tingling in your calves, it could be a sign of nerve damage. This is especially important to pay attention to if you also experience weakness in your calves or difficulty walking.
  4. Pre-existing Medical Conditions: If you have a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, it’s important to seek medical attention if you experience sore calves after hiking. These conditions can increase your risk for complications and require specialized care.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or leg cramps after hiking, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. Your doctor can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to help you recover and get back to hiking.

FAQ Sore Calves or Stiff Calves

Well, my fellow hikers, we’ve made it to the end of our sore calf journey. It’s not the most glamorous topic, but it’s a necessary one when it comes to hitting the trails.

As a physical therapist and avid hiker, I’ve had my fair share of sore calves after walking uphill, sore knees after hiking and very sore feet after hiking and I know how it can put a damper on your post-hike celebration.

But fear not! With a little bit of TLC, you can get those calves back to their happy, pain-free state. Just remember to take care of them before, during, and after your hike. Don’t skip your warm-up, wear proper footwear, stay hydrated, and listen to your body when it’s telling you to take a break.

And if you do end up with sore calves, don’t worry. Grab some ice and heat therapy, try out some massage techniques (or bribe a friend to do it for you), and don’t forget to include some foam rolling in your recovery routine. You’ll be back to hiking in no time.

And hey, if all else fails, just embrace the soreness and use it as an excuse to treat yourself to a post-hike ice cream cone or glass of wine. You earned it, sore calves and all. Happy hiking, my friends!

Why do my calves hurt after hiking?

Pushing yourself too hard or doing a hike that is too difficult for your current fitness level can lead to sore calves. It’s important to gradually increase the intensity and duration of your hikes to avoid overexertion.

Is it normal to have sore legs after hiking?

It is not normal, but a frequent occurrence especially when starting a new hiking program. In most cases, sore calves after hiking can be treated at home with rest, ice and heat therapy, massage, and over-the-counter pain medications. Always seek medical advice if you are unsure.

Author profile: Morgan Fielder is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and passionate hiker who believes in exploring the world on foot with good food. Follow her journey as she shares science-based hiking tips and advocates for sustainable tourism.