This past winter I was playing tennis and having a great game until I chased a ball on to the side line of the court and felt a double pull deep into my calf. This type of scenario may sound familiar to those of you who have had a similar injury. I realized later I had pulled the soleus muscle in my calf. I could still walk, although with some pain with the wrong type of step. This was my education about the soleus muscle the hard way, by injuring it and nursing it back to health over the following six weeks.
Years ago I had pulled a calf muscle during softball. This injury made it painful and difficult to walk but this time it felt different and I had significant pain with each step, however this injury had far less pain unless I stepped the wrong way.
Back then, I would wear my foot orthotics in every shoe except my baseball cleats, which was a big mistake. Wearing an orthotic in these slim shoes prevented future injuries.
These simple exercises can help you prevent a calf injury.
A few years ago, I attended a seminar that introduced me to foot drills, a series of exercises that strengthen the intrinsic muscles in the calf and the foot which can prevent future injuries. They also improve the way the foot responds to uneven terrain. I do them regularly myself and teach them to all of our patients. The exercises not only strengthen the muscles, but also help improve gluteal muscle function which is important for lower back stability.
I realized how effective they were when I visited British Columbia this past week and hiked for three hours on a glacier which tested my feet, ankles and core. The good news is, other than some soreness after the hike, I did not sprain and ankle or pull anything and recovered quickly the following day. While these exercises will not prevent all ankle sprains or muscular strains, they do reduce the risk of these injuries markedly.
Another procedure we regularly recommend to patients is self myofascial release of the calf and leg muscles, which reduces exercise soreness while improving function. Runners World recommended a similar procedure as you will see in the article below.
Recently, Runners World Magazine offered some great advice and information regarding the soleus muscle, and how it affects runners. While they do not mention foot drills specifically, they do suggest exercises that are part of the foot drills protocols. Check the article out here
How often do you think about your soleus muscle when you run? Probably never—to your own detriment, says David Siik, senior manager of running and creator of Precision Running at Equinox in Los Angeles. “This is a really undervalued muscle in the body, and one that’s critical for running,” he says. “I call it the sleeper muscle because it works all the time but gets no credit.”
What Is the Soleus?
The soleus is a deep, pancake-like muscle—one of your three calf muscles—that extends from the Achilles tendon on the heel up behind your knee. “The soleus is responsible for plantar flexion, which is when your toes point downward,” explains Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist, sports nutritionist, and coach. “That’s the push-off when you’re walking or running.”