Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) routine for the calfs (Gastrocnemius)
How to stretch the calfs - Gastrocnemius (Spiky Ball - STR)
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.
Image of Gastrocnemius muscle (right calf) posterior or rear view.
Images produced with kind permission of 3d4medical.com from Essential Anatomy 5
(Copyright © 2018 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-Soft Tissue Release
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 Dr Terry Davis MChiro, DC, BSc (Hons), Adv. Dip. Rem. Massag., Cert. WHS.
About the Chiropractor Author
The author possesses an unusual background for a Chiropractor (McTimoney). His education, training and practical experience span over two decades and relate to both physical and mental aspects of health. 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. 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 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’s combination of knowledge through, education, training, his elite military experience and personal injury history have paid dividends for the patients he sees and has treated. Terry is still extremely active and enjoys distance running, kayaking, mountain biking and endurance-type activities.