If you’ve ever woken up from a deep sleep screaming because of the charley horse in your leg, you know that calf pain is not something to take lightly. Fortunately, the cause of most calf pain is relatively innocuous: generally it’s your overstrained muscles reacting to the spontaneous 5k you ran that morning.

However, calf pain may be a sign of much more serious diseases, including ailments of the blood vessels such as peripheral vascular disease (PVD), which is when the circulation of blood in the legs is restricted or poor, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which is when a blood clot becomes lodged in the blood vessels of the leg. Other causes may include injuries you’ve sustained to the other soft tissues of your calves, such as tears in the calf muscle itself, or the tendons that attach it to the bone.

Pain in the calves is really a symptom itself. However, the pain may manifest itself in different ways. Some may experience cramps, or painful tightening in the calf muscle. Or, there may be a deep, throbbing general pain. Some may experience a burning sensation in the calves, or fatigue or weakness. Sometimes, the calf may even feel numb. (Even though it’s not necessarily painful, numbness may definitely be cause for concern.)

No matter the cause, seeing your podiatrist when you begin to experience calf pain is a good idea, if only to cross the more serious causes off the list. Your doctor will likely diagnose the problem by inquiring about symptoms you’re experiencing. If PVD is suspected, the doctor may check for a weak or diminished pulse in the leg, loss of hair in the limb, pale or blue-colored skin, shrunken calf muscles, and lower blood pressure in the leg.

The treatment really depends on what’s causing the pain in your calf. If your podiatrist determines that the muscle is simply overstrained, then he or she may recommend some calf-stretching exercises to increase flexibility in the muscle. Doing so may reduce the pain you’re experiencing, and help prevent future foot problems that can occur with overly tight calves.

Other problems may require more extensive treatment from your podiatrist. He or she will be your best resource in determining what treatments would work best for you.