Calf pain is common in many athletes. Pain in the calf muscles can be due to a lack of pre (dynamic) and post (static) stretching, over use, as a result of your body’s boimechanics, i.e. how it functions or as a result of compartment syndrome.
Your calves are made up of the Gastrocnemius and the, less remembered when stretching, Soleus muscles.
The biomechanics of your body e.g. your running gait, inversion/ eversion of foot etc. can place different strains on your calf muscles as your body tries to compensate for any other imbalances in the body. (NB: Foot wear can have a significant affect on how you run and the positions you put your body in when running.) Calves can often feel tight due to a lack of pre and post stretching. They can also result from over use, i.e. ramping up the miles too quickly too early on in the training, causing more micro tears in the muscle than your body can remodel.
Compartment Syndrome is where the muscle has got too big for its outer sheath and pressure inside the sheath builds up. The pain is therefore worse when using the muscle and eases when rested. (This can be due to the biomechanics of the athlete). Compartment Syndrome can be acute or chronic. Acute compartment syndrome should initially be treated as with any acute injury (see October’s focus) Chronic compartment syndrome can be helped with sports therapy techniques to help stretch the surrounding sheath.
How to stretch your calves
Stretching your calves is important. You should gradually and carefully stretch both the gastocnemius and soleus muscles but do not try to over stretch them. As with all static stretches they should be performed when warm.
To perform a gastrocnemius stretch, place your outstretched palms against a wall with one leg bent forward (don’t let your knee come forward of your toes) and the other leg extended out behind you. Make sure both knees and feet are facing forward and are not twisted. Keeping the back leg straight, gently lower the heel of the back foot to the floor and you will feel the stretch in your calf muscles.
To stretch the soleus the knee of the back leg needs to be bent when performing the stretch.
The stretches should be held for up to 20 seconds and repeated 3 times. The stretches should be continued for up to 6 weeks to gain benefit from them.
How can Jīròu help?
Sports massage and other sports therapy techniques can be used to lengthen the muscles and treat any trigger points and specific areas of tightness. This will reduce the pain and tightness within the calves and also increase flexibility in the area.
A postural assessment can help by identifying any biomechanical inefficiencies and treating these will help to improve your bodies function and alleviate any compensatory mis-alignment and resulting pains.