Many people experience calf tightness after an intense workout. Calf muscle tightness is defined by any activity or situation in which those muscles stay contracted beyond or independent of physical exertion, usually caused by too much muscle stimulation in the calves. Long-term tightness in your calves can cause ankle or knee pain, Achilles tendon inflammation and plantar fasciitis, says Anthony Carey, author of "Pain-Free Program."
Muscles contract by neural stimulation to the motor units that are scattered among the muscles like little electric wires. Muscle fibers contract by sliding across each other to pull the joints closer together. Actin and myosin, two of the muscle-contracting proteins, make these fibers stick together. However, prolonged neural stimulation of the muscles causes them to stay contracted, keeping the joint and surrounding tissues short and tight.
Parts of the tight muscles can cause trigger points, which are spots along the muscle that are sensitive to pressure and touch due to excessive neural stimulation. These tender spots can cause joints to lock and stiffen, limiting your ability to move freely.
Self-myofascial release, or SMR, is a self-massaging technique that gets rid of trigger points and increases tissue extensibility. You can use a foam roller, a tennis ball or a massage stick to apply pressure on trigger points on your calves. If you use a foam roller, place your left calf on top of the roller and your right calf on top of your left shin. Slide your calves on top of the roller by sliding your buttocks across the ground. Adjust your hand placement as you roll and keep your torso upright. When you find a trigger point, gently rub the area and apply a little more pressure until the pain subsides. Then move on to the next trigger point.
Static stretching reduces the neural stimulation to your calves and elongates the muscles. The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that you perform static stretching after doing SMR. One way you can stretch your calves is to stand with both feet at the edge of a step on a stairway with your heels hanging over the edge. Place your hands on either side of the rail or banister for balance. Tighten your buttocks slightly and lift your chest to maintain a good posture. Let your heels drop over the edge and lift your toes up. Hold the calf stretch for 30 seconds and repeat the stretch twice more.
- "NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training"; Michael Clark; 2007
- "Pain-Free Program"; Anthony Carey; 2005