Is it all in the calf muscle?
When an athlete comes into you with a tight calf muscle, one of the questions asked is – do you stretch? Often the answer is “Yes, I have tried many stretches but they do not seem to work very well”. I have also tried the foam rolling it helps a little. And having a calf massage feels good afterwards but the muscles soon tighten back up again.
What else could I try?
Well, are there any other muscles that tend to be tight? Hamstrings, quads as well as the calf muscle? It’s always worth checking the back, both hips and pelvis for mobility and strength to see if one side is working more efficiently than the other. A compensation of some sort in these areas could influence a calf muscle tightness.
Ankle mobility – check for restrictions around the ankle joint – trying to mobilise the ankle joint with non-weight bearing exercises will give an indication of movement of the ankle and compare with the other ankle. A range of both closed and open chain exercises and resistance band exercises can assist in achieving more mobility.
For runners, the way you run may have an influence on tight calf muscles, landing forefoot with no heel contact on the floor, or suddenly changing from heel running to forefoot running could also load the calf muscles. Remember running is a skill and some some runners just need to be coached, your balance, co-ordination and rhythm could have an influence on your running gait.
Have you changed your running routes and included more hill work? Are you doing more sprints? What about your running shoes have you changed them? Using a running shoe with a different heel drop, a 12mm drop may help calf muscles, but a running shoe that is flatter from rearfoot to forefoot may cause some runners aggravation in the Achilles or calf muscle, there is some evidence in the research to suggest this could be an issue.
Have you had any back issues, or injuries to the hip, knee or ankle? These all need to be taken into consideration for a tightness in the calf muscle.
So sometimes you just need to do some detective work to find out what’s happening and grab a few degrees of movement from different areas to decrease that calf tightness.