Loosen Up Your Tight, Painful Calves With These 6 Simple, Expert-Approved Stretches
Sore calf muscles tend to crop up after hard runs, intense cardio sessions, or tough lower-body workouts, and are particularly annoying because of how long they can hang around. "It's hard to rest your calf," explained Michael Fredericson, MD, professor and director of physical medicine and sports medicine at Stanford University. "You're always walking on it." That lingering pain is a frustrating inconvenience, but it can also turn into something more serious if you don't give it some extra attention. POPSUGAR asked two experts for their treatment tips to get you back on your feet and pain-free as soon as possible.
When it comes to your calf muscles, "I find it's helpful to foam roll prior to stretching," said Steven Mayer, MD, sports medicine specialist at the Northwestern Medicine Running Clinic. The foam roller loosens up the muscles and tendons, he explained, so that you can get an even deeper stretch afterwards. If your calf muscles are feeling sore, he recommended foam rolling your entire calf and Achilles tendon, which runs down the back of your calf towards your heel. If you don't have a foam roller, you can also use a lacrosse ball, which can be especially effective for treating shin splints.
Dynamic and Static Stretching
According to Dr. Fredericson, dynamic stretching is the most effective way to loosen up tight, sore calf muscles. Dynamic stretching, which is active stretching that incorporates movement, warms up your muscles as it loosens them, allowing you to stretch more effectively. Dr. Fredericson recommended walking on your heels, skipping, and doing high knees to loosen up your calf muscles.
Once you've warmed up with dynamic movements, your static stretching will feel even better. Dr. Mayer advised standing on a curb, ledge, or step with one heel hanging off to stretch the back of your calf. Make sure to hold this position for 30-45 seconds. Then, bend your leg at the knee and hold again to feel a stretch in your Achilles tendon. "That will get the different muscles in the calf, instead of just isolating one specific muscle," Dr. Mayer explained.
Other Sore Calf Treatments
Looking for more calf relief? There are a few other tricks you can try.
- Heel lifts: Dr. Fredericson recommended putting small heel lifts in both shoes, which can redistribute your weight and take the strain off your calf muscles when you walk or stand.
- Ice: If your calves are sore 24-48 hours after a workout, Dr. Fredericson said that ice can help bring down any inflammation.
- Heat: If you're dealing with soreness a few days post-workout, ice will only tighten up your muscles more. Try using a heating pad instead, which will loosen and relax them.
- Ibuprofen: An anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen "can be helpful," Dr. Fredericson, although he recommended stretching as a more effective option.
If you're still dealing with calf soreness after several days of careful stretching, consider seeing a doctor; Dr. Mayer pointed out that hip and back injuries can contribute to calf soreness as well. "Sometimes you want to do a more holistic evaluation," he said.
Read on to see exactly how each stretch is done. And to loosen up your legs even more, try these eight muscle-lengthening stretches.