How to Strengthen an Atrophied Calf Muscle

Physiotherapist doing leg massage
Physical therapist stretching calf muscle (Image: Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images)

Calf muscles atrophy for a number of reasons. Disuse following leg surgery, disease, nutritional deficiencies and genetic problems can cause the muscles in the calves to become weak and soft. Exercise, stretching and daily use can help with rehabilitation.

Step 1

Execute calf raises once you can bear weight on the leg. Stand straight with your knees slightly bent and your arms loose at your sides. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart and rise up onto your toes. Hold for a count of three and lower your heels. Start with 20 repetitions and increase the number of calf raises a few each day until you can comfortably do 100.

Step 2

Perform calf raises seated on a stability ball for variation and additional strengthening. Sit on the ball with your feet flat on the floor in front of you and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Push up on your toes and hold for a couple seconds. The ball should rise and fall with your movements. Repeat 10 times. Hold a free weight on your lap to add more resistance and build up your strength.

Step 3

Use a step to do heel drops. Stand with your toes and the balls of your feet on the edge of a step and hold onto the walls, banisters or a stable object to balance yourself. Lower your heels so that you feel your calf muscles stretching. Hold for a count of 10 and slowly rise up again. Use both feet and initially place most of your weight on your good leg. Increase the pressure on the healing leg as it gets stronger. Repeat 10 times, three times per day.

Step 4

Execute heel drops using just your atrophied leg. Put all of your weight on the one leg while bending your knee on your other leg so that it is not involved in the exercise. Repeat five times twice a day until you can perform 10 with little or no discomfort.

Things You'll Need

  • Step

  • Electrical stimulation

  • Massage

Tip

Get a massage from a trained sports massage therapist to help rebuild your calf muscles. In addition to assisting with circulation, a sports massage can help relieve the muscle spasms you may experience when you begin doing exercises to build calf strength.

Ask your physical therapist or physician about getting electric muscle stimulation that can help restore circulation while re-educating your muscles. Doctors at the Brady Chiropractic Group report that short electrical pulses in the calves can temporarily relieve muscle spasms that you might experience as your legs heal. The therapy can relieve swelling as well.

Warning

Stop any exercises that cause pain. With physical therapy, the rule of "no pain, no gain" does not always apply. Either reduce the weight or number of repetitions. You don't want to risk re-injuring your leg.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES
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