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Feb 12

What are the best calf muscle stretches?

Calf Muscle Stretches

Tight calf muscles are a very common finding in my clinical practice in Waterford Chartered Physiotherapy Clinic and can be considerably disabling for keen walkers and road runners where the calf muscles are especially dominant. Most people are aware of the generic stretches for the calf muscles but only a minority of the clients I encounter truly perform the correct technique.

Calf Stretching Waterford PhysiotherapyCommon errors when stretching the calf muscles include:

  • Only stretching one portion of the calf muscles
  • Back foot twisted outwards
  • Rolling in (pronating) of the back foot when moving into the stretch

There are two sets of calf muscles which must be stretched separately:

1)      The Gastrocs

The large Gastrocnemius muscle consists of a medial and lateral part and stretches from above the knee joint all the way down to become the Achilles Tendon in the foot.

Calf Stretching

  • Stand with both feet pointing forwards
  • The front knee is bent and the back leg is straight
  • Keeping both heels on the ground, lift the big toe of the back foot upwards as in the 2nd photo – this will lift your arch and prevent over-pronating during the stretch
  • Hold this position as you push your hips forwards
  • Hold this position as you push your hips forwards

2)      Soleus

This smaller and deeper muscle is located in the lower part of the leg and merges with the Gastrocs to become the Achilles Tendon.

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  • Stand with both feet pointing forwards
  • Both the front and back knees are bent.
  • Keeping both heels on the ground, lift the big toe of the back foot upwards as in the 2nd photo– this will lift your arch and prevent over-pronating during the stretch
  • Hold this position as you push your hips forward
  • You should feel a stretch deeper into your calf muscle.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds – 3-5 repetitions
NOTE: If you have a naturally very high arch or know that you have a supinated foot it is not necessary to lift the big toe in the above exercises. Focus more on keeping the weight centred as you move into the stretch and avoid tilting the ankle outwards.

Some people report that they don’t feel a stretch when performing the Soleus stretch above. An alternative stretch is a combined Soleus/Plantar Facsia stretch described below

  • Place ball of foot up against a step/wall as shown
  • Bend both knees and push front knee forwards
  • You should feel a stretch at the back of your lower calf muscle and under the sole of your foot – Hold for 20-30 seconds – 3-5 repetitions.

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