What is the calf muscle?
Your calf muscle is called the gastrocnemius – which is located on the back of our lower legs. This muscle creates the distinctive shape of the calves. The function of the gastrocnemius is to plantarflex the foot, which is the action of pointing your toes. The gastrocnemius works together with the soleus muscle (which is located behind the gastrocnemius) for plantarflexion. The gastrocnemius also functions to flex the knee, which is the action of bending your knee. This muscle is very powerful and can generate a lot of force to allow you to do movements such as jumping and running.
|Each head inserts in the lateral and medial condyle of the femur||Posterior surface of the calcaneus|
What causes calf muscle spasms?
There are many potential causes to your muscle spasms. Muscle cramps are short (acute) spasms and can be caused by dehydration or electrolyte imbalance within your body. Fatigue, over-use, wearing heels and prior injury can cause spasms. Muscle strain from overworking your muscles during a run, jog, exercising, sports or excessive stair climbing can cause injury or spasm. Muscle spasms within the gastrocnemius also have the potential to cause shin splints. If you are unsure as to what is causing your calf muscle spasm, book a soft tissue occupational therapy appointment to get a diagnosis regarding the cause of your muscle spasms.
Symptoms of a calf muscle spasm:
Pain can feel like a:
Calf muscle pain referrals
As you can see on the image above, the gastrocnemius muscle can refer pain to behind the knee, on either side of the calf, and potentially even all the way down to the arch of your foot. This referred pain is caused by trigger points within the muscle. Within tight muscles, your muscle fibres may form trigger points, which are commonly known as ‘muscle knots’. These trigger points may be painful and sensitive to the touch and can refer pain to outside the muscle. A Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist is an expert in trigger point release and can diagnose the cause of your referred pain correctly.
Be sure to stretch your calves before a workout, run, jog or any other physical activity. Stretching ensures that you warm up your muscle correctly, meaning that it will activate properly during exercise, preventing further injury.
Stretching can also provide muscle spasm pain relief. Stretching creates the opposite effect of what a spasm does – lengthening the muscle instead of tightening it. Stretching helps reduce tension and tightness that can contribute to the formation of trigger points.
Stand next to something you can hold onto for balance, such as a chair, table or wall.
- Step forward with one leg.
- Lift your toes into the air, keeping the heel of your foot on the floor.
- You should feel a stretch in your calf.
- Hold this for a minimum of 30 seconds. Swap legs.
Tip: For pain relief, apply a heat pack to the back of your calf. Heat helps relax the muscle and improve blood flow to the area, allowing for repair. Don’t use ice, as ice will make your muscle tighten further, potentially causing more damage.
Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment
Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment focuses on treating musculoskeletal disorders of the body through diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. A Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist will be able to provide pain relief through hands-on treatments such as trigger point therapy, myofascial massage and dry needling. They can also provide advice regarding home management of muscle spasms to prevent pain.
If you would like calf muscle spasm pain relief, book in to see a friendly Soft Tissue Occupational Therapist at Urban Health HQ. You can make an appointment today by calling 0411 563 391 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org