Have you been experiencing calf pain lately? Pain in your calves is actually quite common and not at all surprising when you consider all the work your lower legs have to do. From standing and walking to climbing, running and jumping, your calves are often overworked and the pain is normally a sign of this.
Athletes, and in particular runners, are quite prone to calf pain. Many of them know the secret to relieving the discomfort is preventing it from happening in the first place. They use a foam roller! When you know how to foam roll your calves, the relief really is blissful.
Causes Of Calf Pain
Alright guys, let’s jump back into high school biology class for just a minute (minus the note-passing and the pimples!)
Your calf muscles are actually known by the technical name triceps surae. They are made up of your beefier, two-headed gastrocnemius muscle and the smaller soleus muscle running under it. The muscles each start in the region of your knee, join at about mid-calf and end together as the Achilles tendon that attaches the muscles to the back of your heel.
1. The most common cause for calf pain and discomfort is a muscle strain. Like many other causes of calf pain, it results from overwork without allowing the muscles time to recover and rebuild. In the case of a strain, this leads to torn muscle fibers and the soreness that characterizes a strain.
2. A muscle cramp in your lower leg (also called a Charley horse) is a tight and intense pain that quickly becomes worse. This pain from the calf muscle contracting involuntarily is more likely to sneak up on you if your muscles are dehydrated or are overly tired. Most people find that they are left with a sore calf after a cramp.
3. Your Achilles tendon, located near the back of your heel in your lower calf, can become torn, swollen or stretched. This is normally caused by overwork of the muscle, stair-climbing or sudden starts or stops in sports like basketball or soccer.
4. A muscle imbalance, whereby one muscle ends up weaker than another one that it has to work with, is also a possible cause of calf pain. The weakness may be the result of exercising one muscle group more than the other. The weaker muscle tires easily and there is an increased risk of it becoming damaged.
How To Foam Roll Calves
Gently massaging tight muscles helps to loosen them and relieve pain. Using a foam roller for a self-massage of your calves is very easy and we’ll look at some wonderful exercises for this below. These will not only alleviate pain but will keep the muscles flexible and strong.
Start With The Back of the Calves
Sit on the floor and place the roller under your lower leg with the other leg may be placed on the floor. Using your hands to support some of your weight, lift your bottom off the floor and roll the entire length of your calf from ankle to knee and back again. Apply more pressure on the upward (ankle to knee) stroke as this is the direction of blood flow.
As you roll, stop at any point where you feel
- Slowly flex and extend your ankle or rotate it.
- Apply cross-friction to any knots that you find by moving slightly side to side over the roller.
- Pin-and-stretch the muscle being worked by resting the other leg on top of it, then rotating or flexing your ankle. This creates greater pressure for even more active release to relax your muscles and stimulate their stretch reflex.
- Repeat the motions for 10-30 seconds before moving on to find another tight spot.
- Repeat the entire exercise with the other leg.
In this same position you can roll the inside and outside of your calf by just simply twisting foot inward and outward.
Next, Do The Side
Lie on your side, with you weight supported by your forearm. Rest the opposite hand on the ground in front of you. Position the roller under your leg about 2 inches from the ankle.
Roll the side of your calf up and down over the roller. If you come across tender or tight spots, pause and slowly rotate your ankle.
Repeat with the other leg.
Finally, Don’t Forget The Front
The tibialis anterior muscle at the front and to the outside of your lower leg can get tighter as the calf muscles get overworked. To roll this muscle, kneel over the roller with both hands on the ground in front of it. Place one leg on the roller so the soft tissue to the outside of the shin bone rests on the roller. The other foot is stretched out behind you on the floor.
For more pressure bring this leg forward to rest on the one being worked. If you find tight or tender spots, pause on the roller and wiggle your ankle for a couple seconds before moving on.
While calf muscle pain may not be totally unavoidable, you can lower the chances of it happening. If you are new to exercising, remember to take things slowly and allow your muscles time to become accustomed to the activity. If you’re a seasoned athlete, don’t fall into the trap of overworking your muscles thinking they can take it.
Keep hydrated and use your foam roller exercises to give your calf muscles a soothing, healing massage. I find that foam rolling my calves helps to properly prepare my lower leg muscles for the stress and strain of a workout. Additionally, I use the roller on my calves after exercising. This helps the muscles to recover from wear and tear and, yes, it does feel blissful!