3 Easy Stretches for Your Calves

calf stretch

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The calf muscle (gastrocnemius) is the large muscle located on the back of the leg, below the knee. The tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone is known as the Achilles tendon. When the calf muscle contracts, it "plantar flexes" the foot, or points the toes.

When calf muscles become tight, the risk of muscle or Achilles tendon tears and injury may increase. Tightness of your calf muscles may also be implicated in plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, or other conditions that affect your foot and ankle. Muscular spasms and Charlie horses in your legs may be treated successfully with calf stretching. Your calf muscles may also become tight if you have foot drop or weakness in your anterior tibialis muscle. For these reasons, it is important to stretch tight calf muscles.


Watch Now: How to Do a Standing Calf Stretch

If you are having any lower extremity problem, check in with your doctor and then see your physical therapist. They can give you an accurate diagnosis of your condition and determine if tight calf muscles may be causing your problem. Your physical therapist can show you how to properly stretch your calf muscles.

Let's review some easy stretches for tight calf muscles. These stretches should be easy for anyone to do — you don't have to be a fitness expert. Of course, be sure to see your doctor before starting this — or any other — home exercise program.

Stretch Number 1: The Runner's Stretch

  1. Face a wall and stand 12 inches away from it.
  2. Extend one leg behind you, keeping both feet flat on the floor and your rear knee straight.
  3. Lean toward the wall until you feel tension in the calf muscle of the extended leg. (You can put your arms on the wall for support.)
  4. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

Stretch Number 2: The Seated Calf Stretch

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you.
  • Lean forward and grab the arches of your feet.
  • Pull your toes toward your body until a stretch is felt in your calf muscles
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Stretch Number 3: The Towel Calf Stretch

The towel calf stretch is a great way to get a good stretch in your calf muscles. Here is how you do it:

  1. Obtain a towel or a strap.
  2. Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you.
  3. Wrap the towel around the ball of one foot.
  4. Gently pull the towel so your toes and ankle flex up toward your face.
  5. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
  6. Repeat for the other calf.

Remember, you should only feel a slight pulling when stretching your calf muscles. If you feel intense pain or discomfort, stop the exercise and check in with your doctor or PT to ensure you are stretching properly.

You can safely stretch your calf muscles several times each day. Whenever you feel like your calf muscles are getting tight, give them a quick stretch to keep them feeling loose and flexible. Your physical therapist can tell you the best frequency to use when stretching your calf muscles and Achilles' tendons.

Tightness in your calf muscles can be one cause of lower extremity repetitive strain injury. Your calf muscles may require improved flexibility if you have an injury or illness that prevents normal mobility. By working to keep your calf muscles flexible, you can get back to moving normally with little or no pain.

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  1. Johnson RE, Haas K, Lindow K, Shields R. Plantar fasciitis: what is the diagnosis and treatment?. Orthop Nurs. 2014;33(4):198-204: quiz 205-6. doi:10.1097/NOR.0000000000000063