Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) - Calves (Gastrocnemius)

Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) - Calves (Gastrocnemius) spiky massage ball

SMR for the calves (Gastrocnemius) - Spiky Massage Ball

How to stretch the calfs - Gastrocnemius (Spiky Ball - SMR)

There are occasions where treatment using myofascial release techniques may not be suitable or advisable (contraindicated). Contraindications can be global, meaning that a method should not be used at all or local, meaning it might be possible to apply a technique to some areas of the body but not others. Before commencing with any fitness or stretching activities and particularly self-myofascial release techniques, one should be sure it is safe. Hence, if one has any contraindications to massage or myofascial release techniques, then self-treatment using the methods listed in the article is not advisable. If in doubt, speak to a suitably qualified professional and get advice before commencing with any of these self-treatment methods. Also, it is advisable to read the more general article on Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) for legs if one has not already done so.

Image of the Gastrocnemius muscle (right calf) posterior view

Image of Gastrocnemius muscle (right calf) posterior or rear view.

Images produced with kind permission of 3d4medical.com from Essential Anatomy 5

(Copyright © 2018 - 2021 3D4Medical. All rights reserved.)

The following example uses an 8cm diameter firm spiky ball, as soft spiky balls tend not to produce the required tissue-lock. Ideally, one should treat the Gastrocnemius before the Soleus, as the Gastrocnemius is more superficial (it sits on top of the Soleus). Releasing the more superficial tissues first should make it easier to access the Soleus tissues and thus treat them more effectively. This technique works well by laying on the floor, and it is worth putting the spiky massage ball on a folded towel or similar. Doing so helps prevent the spiky ball from rolling around and protects any surfaces from any potential denting from the spikes. Equally, the spiky ball can leave dents in the skin and wearing clothing while performing the technique or placing a thin towel between the ball and skin works well. Lay as per the step 1 diagram and rest the lower leg onto the spiky ball being careful not to work within the blue-dotted line boxes. In essence, one needs to avoid applying the technique to the Achilles Tendon and behind the knee (Popliteal Fossa). See step 1 diagram.

Spiky Massage Ball - Gastrocnemius Self-Myofascial Release (SMR)

Step 1 - Initial position

Once in position, it is a simple case of trying to relax the body. The weight of the lower leg and spikes on the spiky ball will create the needed soft-tissue lock. One then just dorsiflexes the ankle or brings the toes towards the knee by bending the ankle joint (see step 2 diagram). The ankle and foot require flexing until one can feel a gentle stretch "point of bind", where slight discomfort is alright, but certainly no pain. Ideally, the stretch wants to be held for 10-12 seconds and maintained at whatever point one could feel the initial gentle stretch. It is best not to try and stretch the tissues further than the original "point of bind" while holding the release, as this could result in over-stretching tissues. After applying the technique for 10-12 seconds, the foot and ankle position can return to the initial start position, as per the step 1 diagram.

Step 2 - Apply Soft Tissue Release

After the initial technique application, one just lifts the lower leg and moves the spiky ball 5-10 cm nearer to the knee, as per the step 3 diagram.

Step 3 - Move the Spiky Massage Ball (soft-tissue lock)

It is then just a case of repeating Step 2 from the new spiky ball position. The technique can be applied in a strip-fashion up the back of the calf muscles, taking care not to work within the highlighted blue-dotted line boxes. It is relatively easy to treat the lateral (outer calf), middle, and medial (inner calf) using this method.

After treating the Gastrocnemius, it is worth moving on to the Soleus.

The article was written by Terry Davis MChiro, BSc (Hons), Adv. Dip. Rem. Massag., Cert. WHS.

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About the Author

As of December 31st 2020, the author chose to leave the Chiropractic profession and pursue studies within the Physiotherapy field. He no longer works as a Chiropractor and works as a Myotherapist in Morningside, Brisbane. The author possesses an unusual background for somebody who trained as a Chiropractor (McTimoney). His education, training, and practical experience span over two decades and relate to both health's physical and mental aspects. He has also needed to push his own body and mind to the limits of physical and psychological endurance as part of his time serving in Britain's elite military forces. His education includes a bachelor of science degree in Business Management, with a specialisation in psychology and mental health in the workplace, an Integrated Masters in Chiropractic, MChiro and a multitude of soft-tissue therapy qualifications (see the about section for more details). His soft tissue qualifications range from certificate level right through to a BTEC Level 5 Advanced Diploma in Clinical Sports and Remedial Massage Therapy. Terry also has extensive experience in security, work, health and safety and holds relevant certifications. He has also taught as a senior course coach at Advanced Diploma level (Myotherapy / Musculoskeletal Therapy) in Australia, both theoretical and practical aspects including advanced Myofascial Release Techniques and has certification in training and assessment. Terry will have taught many of the first students to train as Myotherapists in Brisbane. Terry's combination of knowledge through education, training, elite military service, and personal injury history has paid dividends for the consumers he sees and has treated over the last 15 years. He has extensive experience treating chronic pain and work and sports-related musculoskeletal injuries. Terry is still very active and enjoys distance running, kayaking, mountain biking and endurance-type activities.