The calf muscles consist of the 2 gastrocnemius muscles and the deeper muscle soleus. These muscles merge together to form the achilles tendon which then attaches into the heel bone. Our calf muscle is important in walking, jogging, jumping, hopping and when pushing off to run.
Calf strains are very common especially during the colder weather. They are particularly sustained in running sports/activities but can also occur when simply jogging across the road.
A lot of us can have tight calf muscles without even realising it. Common factors for this can be:
– wearing unsupportive footwear eg ballet flats, nike frees
– wearing high heels which can shorten the length of your calf muscles
– overpronating (flattened arches – some of us do this more than others and it will tighten your calf muscles up )
Some tips to avoid straining your calf:
– Make sure you have a thorough warm up before exercising eg walk, gentle jog
– If you feel your calf tightening up at any stage stop and stretch it, don’t push through the pain/ tightness.
– Don’t change your training program suddenly. Gradually increase any changes in mileage or hill work.
– Make sure your runners aren’t too old as you will have less shock absorption. You should buy new trainers about every 800km. Tip: Only wear your runners for running and not just on the weekend to help them last longer.
– Make sure your runners are correctly fitted to support your arch/ foot as much as your require. If you are not sure then go and see a podiatrist or visit Active Feet in Camberwell.
– Make sure you are well hydrated when exercising
– Try wearing lycra leggings or Skins in the winter to keep your legs warmer.
– If you are a regular runner get massages done every so often to loosen up any tight muscles.
Ways to stretch your calf:
1: Stretch your leg behind you, keeping your heel on the ground. Hold for 15 – 20 sec
2: Keep the same position as above but bend your back knee whilst maintaining the heel on the ground. Hold for 15 – 20 sec Hold and repeat as above.
You should feel this stretch in your calf at all times, not your Achilles tendon
Strengthening your calf:
After a calf strain/ achilles tendon injury it is important to strengthen the muscle again so that there is no muscle imbalance compared to the other side.
1. Calf raises on a step are the best way but also the hardest way to strengthen these muscles. Start with 2 feet on the edge of the step and your knees straight and push up onto your toes and then lower down below the level of the step. Then push back up again. Build up until you can perform up to 2 sets of 10 – 15 repetitions
2. When this gets easy progress to doing it separately on each leg. Repeat the exercise with your knee bent to isolate the soleus muscle.
Eventually you want to be able to complete one set of 25 repetitions on a single leg.
NB: Do not push through pain or tightness when doing this exercise and you may want to stretch both before and after the exercise especially if your calf muscles are still tight. It is normal to feel some discomfort after this exercise as the muscle is working so hard.
If you have an Achilles injury it is important to seek advice from a physiotherapist as there are some very specific things you should and shouldn’t do. Feel free to contact our physios at Leap Back Physio for further information or for an appointment on 99072206 or firstname.lastname@example.org