Unless you're a professional athlete or runner (and sometimes even then), the chances are that you don't think much about your calf muscles. That is - until they start to cause you pain. Calf muscles play a significant role in ensuring you can stand upright, stay balanced, and remain injury-free during your day-to-day activities - yet most of us take them for granted.
Following, we're going to give you the introduction to your calves that these muscles deserve, before covering some information on how daily calf stretching, with the help of calf compression garments, might be able to assist you in relieving leg pain and common instances of muscle injury. After all, you don't want to ruin your ski season.
Introducing Your Calf Muscles
Before you begin your daily calf stretching routine, it's worth knowing what you're going to be working on. Your calves are made up of the Soleus and Gastrocnemius muscles - which attach to your heel via the Achilles Tendon. In your everyday routine, your calves:
- Allow you to walk, run, drive, and move. The muscles within the posterior leg act as powerful flexors for the ankle joint. In other words, you use them to stand on your tiptoes, push down the gas pedal on your car, walk, or run. The calf provides the push you need to raise your heel off the ground, or give you the strength to move forward.
- Permit you to bend. The gastrocnemius muscle in the calf helps the larger muscles farther along your leg to flex and bend your knee, whether you're kneeling, running, or simply climbing a set of stairs.
- Keep you upright and balanced. The calf muscles play a vital role in separating you from those four-legged animals by allowing you to stay balanced on two legs. When you're standing, the muscles communicate with other systems in the body neurologically to keep you straight and tall.
With so many important jobs to do, it only makes sense that constant pressure could lead to exhaustion, tightness, and discomfort within the calves. It's no wonder that so many people turn to calf compression garments to help them support their aching muscles, and relieve leg pain.
The Danger with Tight Calf Muscles
The muscles in your calves can become tight and painful for a number of reasons. Some people are more genetically predisposed to problems with the lower leg muscles, whereas others aggravate their muscular systems through overuse, intense workouts, or even wearing high-heels too often. While calf compression garments can help to reduce some of the discomfort you feel, the problem with tight calf muscles is that the pain doesn't generally stop in one place.
Your calf muscles affect your hamstrings, which restrict movement in your legs, and in turn that can throw off your hip flexors and cause additional stress in the lower back. Once your lower back is suffering from malalignment, the upper body muscles become more prone to stress. In other words, finding a way to relieve leg pain could be essential to the comfort and function of your entire body.
Perhaps the best way to relieve leg pain is through daily calf stretching. Not only can the right movements lengthen the muscles in your calves, but they also reduce your risk of additional injuries such as plant fasciitis, ankle pain, and shin splints.
How to Get Started with Daily Calf Stretching
Before you begin any new exercise program, it's important to check with your doctor to ensure the movements involved are safe for you. Even including stretches within your regular routine is something that should require an all-clear, so make sure you don't take the matter lightly. It may also be worth keeping the following quick tips in mind:
- When starting a stretch, breathe normally, and move slowly.
- Do not overstretch or force your body to go further than is reasonable as this can cause injury
- Hold each stretch for at least thirty seconds, as this will give your muscles time to relax into the stretch.
- Make sure that you are consistent in your efforts, as the more you practice, the more flexible your muscles will be come.
If you notice that you begin to experience excess pain in the calves, knees, or any other area of your body during the following daily calf stretching exercises, stop the movement immediately and address the issue with the help of a medical professional. Do not try to push yourself through a stretch that hurts.
1. Gastrocnemius Stretch
The first step in your daily calf stretching workout to relieve leg pain, should be to lengthen the Gastrocnemius muscle. To do this, stand straight with one foot placed in front of the other. Ensure that your non-stretching leg is at the front to bear the weight of your body, as you reach your other leg back further behind you. Keep the heel of your stretched leg flat on the floor, and move forward with your body to feel the pull in your calf. Hold the position for at least thirty seconds, before releasing and repeating with the alternate leg.
2. Static Soleus Stretch
The soleus muscle is the lower muscle in your calf, and another vital aspect to consider in your daily calf stretching routine. To stretch this muscle, start by standing straight, one knee bent forward with your heels flat on the ground. Begin to lower your hips slightly until you feel your lower calf muscle start to stretch, then hold the position for thirty seconds, before relaxing and repeating with the alternate leg.
3. Achilles Tendon Stretch
Finally, your Achilles tendons help to support your calves and feet, so they're worth considering when your aim is to relieve leg pain. Stand about an arm's distance away from a wall, with your hands placed on the brick in front of you. Lean forwards gradually, keeping your hands shoulder distance apart, and placing the foot you want to stretch behind you, with the other foot closer to the wall. Bend the knee of the stretching leg, keeping your heel flat against the floor, and lean forward until your calf muscles begin to pull. Lower your hips to intensify the stretch, then hold for thirty seconds, relax, and switch to the alternate leg.