Best 5 Exercises to Stretch your Calves
The calf muscles are a group of muscles located in the lower part of your leg. They are responsible for bending your ankle and lifting your heel off the ground. These muscles include the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle.
The gastrocnemius muscle is the larger and more visible of the two muscles. It originates at the back of your knee and inserts into your Achilles tendon. The soleus muscle is located deeper in your leg and runs underneath the gastrocnemius muscle. It originates at the back of your tibia bone and inserts into your Achilles tendon.
Common injuries to the calf muscles include calf strains and tears, Achilles tendonitis (often known as Achilles tendinopathy), and shin splints. Calf strains and tears occur when the muscle fibres are overstretched or torn, usually from a sudden or forceful movement such as sprinting or jumping. Achilles tendonitis is a condition where the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, becomes inflamed due to overuse or repetitive stress. Shin splints occur when the muscles, tendons, and bone tissue around the shin become inflamed and painful due to overuse or repetitive stress, and can also be related to what we call a bone stress reaction.
Calf injuries can be caused by overuse, sudden movements, or direct trauma. Athletes who participate in sports that require a lot of jumping or running are more prone to calf injuries. Symptoms of a calf injury include pain, swelling, and difficulty walking.
Common Calf Injuries: Calf injuries are common, especially in athletes and active individuals. Some common calf injuries include:
- Strain: A calf strain occurs when the muscle fibres tear or stretch too far. It can happen from sudden movements, overuse, or improper stretching.
- Achilles tendonitis: This injury occurs when the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone, becomes inflamed. It can happen from overuse, tight calf muscles, or improper footwear.
- Calf cramps: A sudden and involuntary contraction of the calf muscle can cause a calf cramp. It can happen from dehydration, muscle fatigue, or electrolyte imbalances.
Treatment for Calf Injuries:
At Surrey Physio we treat many patients that have tight/painful calves if you have a calf injury. If the injury to the calf is new or acute, then we are unable to massage the calf due to a potential risk of blood clots. However, after one week gentle massage can be performed. We also use LASER, ultrasound and other electrotherapy. For Achilles tendonitis, we use shockwave. I myself suffered with Achilles tendonitis while doing downhill mountain runs in Rio de Janeiro at the Olympics in 2016. Months of resting it did nothing. Our clinic then bought an incredible shockwave machine and after three sessions the pain completely disappeared and never came back.
You can also take steps to reduce pain and swelling, such as:
- Ice: Apply ice to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. This will help reduce pain and swelling.
- Compression: Use a compression bandage or sleeve to help reduce swelling and provide support to the affected area.
- Elevation: Elevate your leg above heart level to help reduce swelling.
- Stretching and strengthening exercises: Once the pain and swelling have reduced, it is important to start stretching and strengthening exercises. This will help prevent further injury and speed up the healing process. At Surrey Physio we have an experienced team of physiotherapist and osteopaths that can help you relive your calf symptoms. We can use manual therapy techniques such as massage or stretching to help speed up the healing process.
- Consult a physiotherapist or osteopath at Surrey Physio: Most calf injuries can be treated with rest and physiotherapy. If your injury is severe or if you have persistent pain, swelling, or difficulty walking, it is important to see us in clinic. We can recommend treatments and exercise plans to get you back to what you love doing the most.
In the meantime, we have developed 5 top exercises we think would help you to improve your calf symptoms.
How to stretch your gastrocnemius
Stand facing a wall, with your feet together and your hands flat against the wall. Both your feet should be facing forwards and your back heel resting on the ground and your knees straight. You should feel a stretch to the leg at the back, in the calf muscles (known as the gastrocnemius).
Hold stretch for 30 seconds repeat 4 times
How to stretch your soleus
Stand facing a wall, place one leg in front of you and your hands flat against the wall. Keep both heels on the ground, and your front knee bent. Push your front knee forward towards the wall to feel a stretch in the lower back part of the leg (bottom of the calf muscle, known as the soleus).
Hold stretch for 30 seconds repeat 4 times.
Stretch your calf muscles
Stand with your toes on the edge of a step or a box. Hold onto something stable for support of required. Drop your heels downwards. You should feel a stretch just below the back of your knee, in the calf (this part of the calf is known as the gastrocnemius).
Hold stretch for 30 seconds repeat 4 times.
Calf raises two legs step
Ok this is a strengthening exercise, but we put it in here as it’s important to keep your calf strong as well as flexible. Stand on a step, hold onto a handrail for balance if required. Slowly raise up onto your toes, and control the movement back down just below the level of the step. This exercise will strengthen the calf muscles and ankle joints, but at the bottom of the movement put a stretch through the calves as well.
Try 3 sets of 12 reps.
Foam roller gastrocnemius soleus single leg
Sit down placing a foam roller under your calf muscle (back of the lower leg). Your foot should be off the ground, and you can balance using your arms. Roll the roller up and down your calf to create a stretch. Progress by pointing your toes backwards towards your knee.
In summary, the calf muscles play an important role in lower leg movement and are prone to injuries. If you experience a calf injury, it is important to rest and protect the affected area, reduce pain and swelling, and follow a stretching and strengthening program to help prevent further injury and promote healing. Remember, if your injury is severe or if you have persistent pain, swelling, or difficulty walking, consult a physiotherapist or osteopath at Surrey Physio for proper diagnosis and treatment.
(Therapists reading this page, these videos are provided by Rehab My Patient – the best exercise prescription software for therapists to prescribe exercises www.rehabmypatient.com. If you are a patient needing advice, call Surrey Physio to book a telephone/video consultation with one of our expert physios or osteopaths, or book in face-to-face for an appointment. You can call us on 0208 685 6930 or book online by clicking the link at the top of the page).