Walking is generally considered a safe and accessible form of exercise that can be part of a healthy, active lifestyle. While it's natural to feel light soreness in the calf muscles after exercise or to experiencing a cramp in a calf, feeling pain in your calf muscles while walking may be a sign of a more serious condition -- especially if the pain occurs after only a few minutes of movement.
Calf and heel pain may be a result of an overuse condition called Achilles tendonitis -- inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the strong band of fibers that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. The condition is caused by repetitive stress on the tendon, generally as a result of pushing the body too fast, too soon. Tight calf muscles can contribute to the condition. Pain is often worse with activity and may increase throughout the day.
Attack of the Arteries
If you experience cramps and calf pain that disappears when you stop walking and rest, you may be suffering from peripheral artery disease, a narrowing of the arteries that results in a lack of oxygen in working muscle cells. Other symptoms may include scratches and bruises that don't heal on the lower legs; pale, clammy skin; and difficulty detecting pulse below the narrowed artery. Pain often feels worse when walking quickly or walking uphill. According to the "British Journal of Cardiology," smoking is the biggest risk factor for peripheral artery disease.
Tests and Treatment
Visit a physician to determine the cause of pain in your calves. If you are diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, your doctor may prescribe a drug that widens the blood vessels. For those with mild to moderate symptoms, Duke University notes that quitting smoking may be helpful, as this will encourage better blood flow to the limbs. Rest, ice and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication may help relieve the pain of Achille tendonitis. Heel-lifting inserts can also be placed in shoes to take stress off the tendons.
Stretch and Soothe
Though sudden calf cramps -- sometimes called charley horses -- generally occur at night during sleep, they can occur in the day as well. This is a common condition that is usually harmless, according to the National Health Service. Stretching can be soothing for calf cramps and Achilles tendonitis. To stretch your calf muscles, simply stand with the balls of your feet on a step, allowing your heels to hang off the edge. Slowly lower your heels until you feel a stretch in your calves. Hold for a few seconds and lift up again, repeating several times.
- The Harvard Medical School Family Guide: When Walking Makes Your Legs Hurt
- Duke Health: Leg Pain: When to Worry
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Achilles Tendinitis
- The British Journal of Cardiology: 10 Steps Before You Refer for Peripheral Arterial Disease
- National Health Center: Leg Cramps