Have you ever had a nagging pain that isn’t quite bad enough to see a Dr. about, but just annoys you? As anyone with any type of expertise in a subject knows, especially in healthcare for some reason, when your family has a question–YOU are the first one they call! Luckily, these can turn into great stories to help out others like you!
First a little background on my sister: A little over a year ago she began going to the gym regularly again after her children turned 2 & 4. While at the gym she decided that if she was going to work out regularly, she might as well work towards a goal. At the age of 41, my sister completed her first Sprint Triathalon! I was there for moral support and to take a few photos for proof! I must admit, initially I was a little nervous for her, but she almost made it look easy! After completing her first triathlon, with minimal soreness, she decided to continue her training and enter other events.
However, after increasing her workouts, a pain her calf began to limit her running. This pain would begin very soon after starting her run and then subside only to return at about mile 7. Her pain was located on the inside (medial) calf, but deeper than the gastrocnemius (the large bulky calf muscle).
At first, I told her to warm up her legs and then stretch her calves with the runners stretch (pictured left) before running, thinking that she was either not warming up adequately or not stretching enough.
However, the next day I had an epiphany– the Soleus! This muscle lies deeper than the gastroc and is not often talked about. It is usually referred to with the gastroc as the gastroc-soleus complex or triceps surae and is known for causing problems in runners.
So, I called her back and explained how to stretch the soleus. It is a trickier muscle to stretch and it is not a stretch that is routinely utilized.
I Generally Instruct Patients to Stretch the Soleus Muscle in 1 of 3 Ways
(although there are many variations).
1. The first is similar to the runners stretch, but the back knee is bent instead of straight.
2. The second requires the foot to be dorsiflexed (top of foot pulled back toward you) and supported by a wall or step with the knee bent.
3. The third is seated with a pillow or roll placed under your knee (to keep the knee flexed) with a strap pulling the foot into dorsiflexion or back towards you (see below to find great deals on foam rolls and stretching straps).
The stretches should be held atleast 30 seconds and repeated 2-3 times (no bouncing either!).
By placing the knee in a little bit of flexion you can take the larger and stronger gastroc, which attaches above the knee, out of the picture and allow just the soleus, which attaches below the knee, to stretch. If the knee remains straight the gastroc will be the primary muscle stretched.
♦Technical Note: The Gastroc is a 2-joint muscle, meaning it crosses both the ankle and knee joint and is able to produce motion at both joints. If the knee is bent during stretching, the gastroc is partially slackened and will not adequately stretch. This allows the soleus, a 1 joint muscle of the ankle, to stretch.♦
If you ever find yourself with this type of pain or want to prevent it you might benefit from this very specific stretch! Have you or someone you know ever experience an issue with the soleus muscle?
Calf pain may be a sign of a more serious problem, such as a blood clot (DVT- Deep Vein Thrombosis). If you are experiencing near constant pain, redness, warmth, and/or swelling in the calf please seek medical attention. Stretching and exercising can dislodge the blood clot and allow it to travel to other areas of the body causing serious problems that can become life threatening.
Thank you to my husband for being the model in these pictures!