Stretches for Tight Calf Muscles

Stretching the calf muscles regularly can help to improve flexibility. Below we explain how to properly stretch the calf muscles.

The calf muscles mainly consist of the larger gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle which is located deeper and lower down the leg. To effectively stretch both these muscles exercises should be done with the knee bent as well as straight.

Assessing flexibility

A good starting point is to assess the flexibility of the calf muscles. One method of assessing calf muscle flexibility is to apply gentle pressure to the forefoot with the patient sitting with the leg out straight in front.

There will be a point where the resistance noticeably increases as the muscle begins to stretch. It is likely the therapist will feel this before the patient feels a stretch on the calf muscles.

Play Assessing calf muscle flexibility video.

Gastrocnemius stretch

To stretch the big gastrocnemius muscle the back leg must be kept straight. Stand with the leg to be stretched at the back and hands on a wall at shoulder height.  Bend the front knee and lean forwards, keeping the back knee straight and pushing the heel down into the floor.

When you can feel a stretch, hold for 20 seconds. If the stretch eases, lean further forwards until you can feel it again. But do not push too far in the early stages. Perform 3 repetitions and repeat this 3-5 times a day.

Play Gastrocnemius stretch video.

Soleus muscle stretch

To stretch the deeper soleus muscle the knee of the leg to be stretched needs to be bent. This is because the soleus muscle attaches below the knee and bending the knee allows the gastrocnemius muscle to relax leaving the soleus on stretch.

Lean against a wall with the leg to be stretched at the back. Bend the knee keeping the heel in contact with the ground until a stretch is felt. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat three times. If a stretch is not felt then another method is to place the ball of foot against the wall and bend the front knee until a stretch is felt.

Play Soleus muscle stretch video.

Stretching on a step

As flexibility increases or if you have particularly flexible calf muscles it may be better to stretch using a step. Lower the heel off the step dropping down until a stretch is felt.

Hold for 15 to 20 seconds for 3 repetitions and repeat 3 to 5 times a day. The soleus muscle can be stretched similarly but with the knee of the leg to be stretched kept bent.

Play Stretching on a step video.

Plantar fasciitis night splint

The plantar fasciitis night splint is an excellent way of increasing the flexibility of the calf muscles, particularly if conventional stretching exercises do not seem to be working as fast as you might like.

The splint is worn over night and helps prevent the calf muscles tightening up. In effect a very gentle prolonged stretch is applied. The calf muscles are particularly prone to tightening up over night while you are asleep and the night splint is a very effective way of preventing this from happening.