Calf Stretches – Best Calf Stretches Exercises For Flexible Calf
Physical therapists, family doctors, and orthopaedic surgeons often recommend calf stretches for some of their patients with certain musculoskeletal conditions such as achilles tendinitis and hallux valgus, even healthy individuals are also advised on calf stretches.
The calf muscles are essentially what you use when you climb up a heel, control your descent down a hill, run to get a bus, control your gait in a moving queue and so on, and these muscles need a lot of maintenance to ensure they function more effectively.
Essentially, the calf muscles would help us run, walk, jump better if they are kept flexible and long enough by engaging in calf stretch exercises.
What is Calf Muscle?
There are two muscles that constitute the calf; the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles.
Both muscles are located at the back of the leg. Both muscles function to move the foot downwards, a movement called plantar flexion.
The gastrocnemius is superficial or lie above the soleus, originating above the knee with its two heads attached to small extensions of the thigh bone, the femur, called the medial and lateral condyles. The gastrocnemius muscle inserts via a strong tendon called the achilles tendon to the ankle.
The soleus lies deep to the gastrocnemius and originates below the knee via tendons attached to the back of the upper part of the leg bones; tibia and fibula. The soleus muscle joins the gastrocnemius muscle in inserting to the ankle through the achilles tendon.
While both muscles have a common insetion, both differ in their origin and this is essential to note for calf stretches.
The gastrocnemius originates above the knee, hence the knee must be in full extension for it to be stretched.
The soleus muscle, on the other hand, originates from below the knee, and does not require extension of the knee for it to be stretched.
Why is it Important to stretch the Calf Muscle?
As noted earlier, the calf muscles enable walking, running, and other foot movements.
If the calf muscles are shortened or tight, these movements may become really difficult to perform. The calf muscles must be lengthened well enough to ensure these movements are performed seamlessly, and this is achieved by stretching the calf muscles.
To walk properly, one must be able to raise the foot up at an angle of 15 degrees.
If the foot cannot be brought up to this extent due to shortening or tightness of the calf muscles, it would lead to compensatory movements such as toeing out, excessive hindfoot inversion, excessive pronation of the forefoot, and excessive rotation of the knee, and these movements can lead to musculoskeletal injuries, chronic inflammation of the joints involved, as well as degenerative changes.
For sports enthusiasts and athletes who engage in prolonged running, jumping, and walking, calf exercises are therefore, essential to keep the calf muscles flexible and long enough.
What Injuries Can occur If you don’t stretch the Calf muscle?
The movements of the foot usually occur in sync with movements of other joints such as the hip, spine, and knee joints. If the foot moves abnormally, it would affect the other joints adversely.
If you do not stretch the calves, you place yourself at risk of such musculoskeletal conditions as the following:
A hallux rigidus is a disease characterized by pain and stiffness of the big toe.
This condition, also called bunions is characterized by deviation of the metatarsals of the big toe.
An inflammatory condition of the tough fascia, the plantar fascia, overlying the sole of the feet.
This is an inflammatory and degenerative disorder of the achilles tendon, and is characterized by a severe heel pain
This is an injury to the tendon connecting your kneecap to your shinbone which occurs when it is overstressed. Patellar tendinitis presents with pain between the kneecap and where the tendon attaches to the shin bone.
Iliotibial band friction syndromes: This condition causes pain on the outer part of the knee and is caused by overuse damage to tissues around that part of the knee.
Patellofemoral pain syndromes: These syndromes include diseases that cause damage, wear and tear, and inflammation of the cartilage beneath the kneecap. They are characterized by pain in the front of the knee.
Other injuries or conditions that may result if you do not stretch your calves include shin splints, mechanical back pain, headaches.
Why is the Calf Muscle often tight?
If a muscle is not worked out or exercised, it may shorten. The calf muscle is particularly notorious for this.
For example, if you wear high-heeled shoes for long periods of time, the calf muscles are kept shortened. If the calf muscles are kept in this position for a long time, they may eventually remain in that state.
Being a very active set of muscles, the calf muscles must contract for a long period of time to keep us standing, walking, and running, and this may make the muscles tighten so fast.
If an athlete does not warm up by stretching the calf muscle before training, it might tighten up and contract suddenly.
The Calf Stretches
There are a number of calf stretches and these include the standing calf stretch, wall calf stretch, downward dog yoga stretch, calf stretches on a step, farmer’s toe walk, and calf stretches using foam rollers, sticks, and belts.
Standing Calf stretch for Gastrocnemius muscle
To perform this, do the following:
- Stand about three feets behind a wall, with one hand outstretched and touching it.
- Put your right foot behind you, ensuring your toes point straight forwards.
- Keep your heel touching the ground and lean forward keeping your right knee straight.
- Rotate your toes inwards and outwards will stretch the medial and lateral parts of the gastrocnemius muscle respectively.
- Hold each position for 30 to 60 seconds each.
Standing Calf Stretch for Soleus Muscle
This involves the following sequence:
- Stand away from a wall and place your right foot behind you keeping your toes face forwards.
- Lean forward with your ankle with your heel still on the ground.
- Bend your right knee.
- The flexing of the knee places tension on the soleus muscle and off the gastrocnemius.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
Wall Calf Stretch
This stretch exercise involves the following steps:
- Stand about two feets behind a wall.
- Put the ball of your right foot against the wall, keeping your heel on the ground.
- Gently lean into the wall with your foot in the above-described position and keep your knee straight simultaneously.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds depending on recommendations by your physical therapist.
Downward Yoga Calf Stretch
Here are the steps to performing this:
- Get down on your hands and feet, keeping your hands on the floor.
- Walk with your hands forward on the floor while spreading your fingers wide apart to provide a broad support base.
- Push your hips upwards, as if towards the ceiling, then tighten your abdominal muscles.
- While your heels are kept on the ground, attempt to straighten the knee and keep that position.
- Hold the above-described position for 30 to 60 minutes.
Calf Stretch Exercises Using a Stick
Do this following the sequence below:
- Sit on the floor and keep your forefoot against a wall.
- Place a stick below your legs and roll over a 3 to 4 inch area of your calf for about 10 seconds.
- Do this same thing over other areas of your calf until all areas of your calf have been covered.
This would ordinarily not cause pain, but if it does, report this to your physical therapist
Calf Stretch Exercises Using a Foam Roller
This can be done in the following steps:
- Sit on the floor keeping your legs outstretched and your hands placed behind you supporting your body.
- Place a foam roller under the lower half off your right leg.
- Place your left leg crossed over your right leg.
- Roll your leg back and forth over the foam roll, supporting yourself with your hands behind you.
- Roll the foam toward your knee.
- Ensure that while rolling over the foam roller, your toes face outwards and inwards.
Calf Stretch Exercises using a belt
This exercise involves the following steps:
- Sit upright on a chair with your back straight and shoulders straight.
- Place a strap of belt looped around the ball of your right foot.
- Keep your right knee straight while you pull up the belt tightly, this keeps the gastrocnemius stretched.
- Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds.
- To stretch the soleus using the belt, bend the right knee and pull the belt up.
You may also perform this stretch exercise sitting on your bed or floor.
Calf Stretch Exercise Using a Step
This type of calf stretch exerciseis recommended if your calf muscle has become flexible enough.
This stretch exercise is done in the following steps:
- Place your foot over a step.
- Lower the heel of that foot down the step until you feel a stretch in your calf.
- When you feel a stretch in your calf, hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat the process 3 to 5 times daily.
This sequence stretches the gastrocnemius muscle, to stretch the soleus, follow the same steps but with your knee bent.
Plantar Fascitis Night Splint
This method of calf stretching is a good method of increasing the flexibility of the calf muscles, particularly if the other methods do not seem to be providing enough flexibility for the calf muscles.
The splint is worn over night and keep the calf muscles from tightening up. The calf muscles are prone to tightening up at night during sleep. The splint provides a gentle prolonged stretch for the calf.
Farmer’s Walk on Toes
This exercise builds the strenght of the calf muscles. To perform this exercise, follow this steps:
- Hold a pair of large dumbbells down at your sides.
- Rise up on your toes and walk on them for 60 seconds.
- Ensure you walk straight and do not break the one-minute walk.
- Follow these steps three times daily.
Eccentric Calf Raises
This is another calf stretch exercise and is done in the following steps:
- Stand on a step with your heels hanging off the edge of the step.
- Push yourself up while holding on to the rail.
- Then drop your heel slowly back down to the level of your feet.
- Drop your heels to the count of 10 seconds.
- Push your heels back up and down repeatedly.
- Do three sets of 15 up and down heel movements daily
Plyometric Jump Squats
This exercise boosts the power of the calf muscle and does this by stretching it before contracting it forcefully.
This exercise is done in the following steps:
- Stand on your feet and stretch them wide apart.
- Keep your toes turned outwards.
- Put your arms outstretched in front of you.
- Squat down while pushing your butt back while still maintaining your upper body straight tall.
- In this squatting position, jump up as high as you can, then land gently on your heel.
Calf stretches are essential to keep the calf muscle flexible and long enough to enable us walk, run, jump, and perform other movements involving the foot.
The two muscles which make up the calf are the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles and leaving these muscles to perform all those functions without stretching them regularly may make them tight and shortened, making one prone to injuries such as shin splints, achilles tendonitis, back pain, and bunions.