By Cassidy Phillips – Founder of Trigger Point Performance Therapy
When we are talking about the calves (gastrocnemius), we are typically really discussing the soleus, a muscle that is beneath the calves. The soleus is very powerful and influential because of its size and responsibility. Biomechanics can be changed dramatically when the soleus muscle loses its functionality.
If you are an endurance athlete or walker, your soleus is going to be more influential than your calves because there is typically no vertical jumping involved. Track runners, basketball players and other athletes that sprint (run on their toes) or leap vertically, tend to activate the calves more than the soleus.
Regardless, when it comes to strength, tone, and flexibility of a muscle, it’s more important to focus on the general area than the individual muscles. This will give you the greatest rate of return. Your body is a fine-tuned machine and while all the muscles are independent of one another, they still have to play together. When one muscle is out of sorts, the others have to make up for the lack of responsibility. When it comes to strength training, toning, or massaging the muscles, it is very difficult to isolate each and every one of them. This is why I say to focus on the general area.
All the muscles within the calf region connect in the foot. Strength and stability in the foot and ankle can be compromised once these muscles lose their flexibility. Dehydration further compounds the loss of flexibility and elasticity within these muscles causing them to adhere together. This makes the muscles more reactive than active.
One of these muscles, the posterior tibialis, is located below the soleus muscle, between the tibia and fibula. It inserts all the way down in the bottom of the foot. Calf tightness and lack of flexibility within the muscle can and, most of the time, will contribute to having symptomatic aches and pains in the bottom of the foot.
The other muscles in the area, the flexors, hallucis and digitorum longus, attach in the bottom of the foot as well but more toward the mid-foot. Once they start to lose their flexibility and strength, functionality in the foot is going to be even more compromised. This is going to force the calf region to work that much harder to balance the foot on the ground through motion.
If you continue to overwork the muscles in this area and you don’t think about the weight distribution of the body or the flexibility and elasticity of the muscle, eventually the muscle will lose its ability to perform. This is because the calf muscles are being double-impacted by a weight distribution problem and loss of functionality of the foot. Their main responsibility is to control the foot through movement.
Similar to calf pain, aches and pains within the shin region can occur due to the lack of flexibility and elasticity in the muscles discussed. If you look at the soleus muscle, you will see that the muscle wraps around the front of the leg (the tibia). If the soleus becomes challenged and loses it’s flexibility and strength, it can potentially become sore and cause aches and pains directly near the tibia. It’s possible that the connective tissue surrounding the muscle can actually attach to the bone at times. This can compromise the muscular structure and reduce the functionality of the muscle itself.
Another area that you must pay attention to when referring to muscular challenges in the lower leg is the anterior tibialis. This is the muscle that runs up the front (anterior) of your leg from your foot all the way up to the underside and lateral areas of your knee. If dorsiflexion is lost in the foot, the anterior tibialis is forced to work harder to make up for the imbalance, therefore straining the muscle. When you apply the same principles discussed above, flexibility and elasticity vanish, and aches and pains arise.
Furthermore, some people actually experience aches and pains of the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon when the calves get weak and inflexible.
What is interesting to me is that you sleep with your feet pointed for the most part. You sit with your arches turned up toward the sky and knees out to the side. When you swim, your foot is in flexion. Then, you ask your soleus to elongate when cycling, running, and jumping, and it never gets a break. The soleus is involved in every step you take. When it comes to the greatest rate of return when working out, strengthening the soleus and making sure it’s flexible should be high on your to-do list.
Exercises: Examples of massages for the areas discussed above
TP Footballer & Baller Block Soleus Exercise
TP Double Ball Calf Exercise
TP Single Ball Calf Exercise
Video Exercises: Video examples of massages for the areas discussed above
TP Footballer & Baller Block
TP Double Ball Video