Disclaimer: While we’ve gathered this information from many great sources, you should always speak to a qualified medical expert if you’re experiencing consistent pain in your calf muscles.
Have you ever had a “charley horse” (a painful muscle cramp in your calf)? Have you ever felt the ache of shin splints? Most people have, and they are, well, quite literally a pain.
We’ve gathered some useful tips on how to massage calf muscle knots away to provide relief from those aches and pains.
The Biology of The Calf Muscle
If you look at your forearm, you can see that there are 20 muscles that extend from your elbow to your wrist. The calf, however, is made up of two major muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
There is a third, smaller muscle below called the plantaris, which 10% of people don’t even have. So when we talk about calf anatomy for the purpose of massage, we’re really focused on the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles.
The gastrocnemius is the larger muscle in your calf. It begins at your femur bone, connecting in two places: the inside and the outside of the bone. From the femur, it goes down the back of the leg, where it attaches to the Achilles tendon. Because it connects two joints, the gastrocnemius is prone to strains.
Soleus muscles are wide and flat, attached by connective tissue to your tibia and fibula bones and run from your knee to your Achilles tendon. The soleus sits deeper than the gastrocnemius and is less prone to strain and injury as it only crosses the ankle.
Will Massaging My Calves Help Alleviate Pain?
If you’re suffering from lower leg pain, massage can often be a great way to make it better. However, experts are divided on whether soft tissue massage actually helps a healthy calf muscle. Massage increases blood flow to the area, which helps injured muscles to heal. Yet some studies have shown that massage doesn’t loosen calf muscles.
So if you’re using massage to improve your range of motion or improve stiffness, you may want to implement other techniques as well.
A calf massage can also be a great way to relax and encourage healing in your lower leg and may help break up scar tissue or adhesions from previous injuries.
How to Massage Away Calf Muscle Soreness
There’s a high likelihood that you ended up here because you have a sore calf muscle and you googled, “how to massage calf muscle.” For your convenience, here are a few useful massage techniques that you can use right at home to relax lower leg muscles.
Keep in mind that if you ever feel sharp pain while massaging, you should stop. You’re not aiming for a deep tissue massage; the goal is to work out muscle knots, address muscle spasms, or to address muscle fatigue.
It’s important to apply firm pressure, not deep pressure.
You should also never massage on the day of the initial injury. Be sure to wait a few days before using massage for pain relief. This will give the muscles and tendons a chance to heal before being put under more stress, which helps to avoid causing further harm.
Use Your Hands
This is the most obvious step and, for most of us, the most accessible way to get a good calf massage. However, our thumbs aren’t always up to the task and can become tired pretty quickly. You can try using your knuckles, your palm, or the heel of your hand.
You can apply some massage oil to your hands to help minimize friction.
Place your hand on the back of your ankle and spread your fingers so that you can reach more calf surface area. Apply firm pressure and begin to slowly slide your hand (or hands) up, stopping below the knee. Repeat this 10 times per leg.
You can also incorporate kneading and squeezing into this technique.
Use a Massage Gun
Using a massage gun is pretty straightforward, and it’s a great way to apply pressure without hand-massaging. To avoid causing further harm to an injury, keep the percussions per minute (PPM) at a lower setting.
There are some great guides online that teach you how to use a massage gun safely and effectively.
Stick to soft tissue and avoid using the massage gun on the shin bone; it will likely hurt.
Use a Foam Roller
Sit on the floor and rest both calves on top of the roller, aiming for just below the knee joint with a foam roller. Begin rolling your calves slowly across the roller, moving down toward the ankle joint, and slowly back up to your knee. Do this for a couple of minutes.
Use a Lacrosse Ball
A lacrosse ball is an excellent tool for alleviating stubborn calf muscle knots. You can actually use it the same way you would use your own hands to massage.
You can also place the lacrosse ball on the ground directly underneath a sore spot in your calf muscle. Keep your leg still and allow the ball to sink into the tissue for about 30-60 seconds
Use Floss Bands
(Note: You should avoid this technique if you have a history of circulation issues, circulatory disease or sensory impairments in your legs.)
Wrap the floss band around your calf as tightly as is comfortable. Move around while the floss band compresses the muscles, which will increase blood flow and improve muscle health.
Do a kneeling lunge with the wrapped leg out in front, or any type of easy movement that will engage the calf muscle.
How to Keep Your Calves Healthy
In addition to massage, there are a number of things you can do on a daily basis that will help to improve flexibility and to relieve calf stiffness.
Be sure to warm up before stretching and exercising. It’s important to get the blood flowing, so a short walk or jog should do it.
Stretch Them Out
According to a Harvard study, stretching helps to keep muscles flexible, strong and healthy which are all important to our range of motion.
Being dehydrated can leave you feeling sore and tight, and is often the cause of muscle cramps. Water helps to keep your muscles flexible, with improved blood circulation.
Wear Proper Shoes
The wrong pair of shoes can lead to pulls and strains. An old pair won’t provide the proper type and amount of support.
Wear Compression Clothing
Compression clothing and sleeves are great for improving blood circulation and for temporary pain relief while moving around.
Do Physical Therapists Or Massage Therapists Regularly
Physical therapy or massage therapy are both great ways to condition your calves. They’re also good if you’re into endurance sports. Professionals know how to massage calf muscle areas in ways that will encourage healing and overall wellness.
Work On Your Overall Fitness
Exercise isn’t just about maintaining strong muscles and a fit body; it optimizes your body functions, including the musculoskeletal system. Staying active helps to reduce soreness and to keep things in working order.
Our calves do a lot of work; they allow us to walk, stand, run, jump, and help our feet do what they need to do. It’s no surprise that tight calf muscles are a common problem. That is why it’s so important to take proper care of our calf muscles.
Injury prevention is just as important a part of learning how to massage calf muscle areas as effective exercise techniques. The next time a charley horse hits, you’ll know what to do.