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The gastrocnemius is the muscle of the calf thanks to whom it gets its shape. In many people it triggers pain in the calf, the hollow of the knee or in the footbed. The reasons for this are often tensions and trigger points.
With a self-massage you can free the muscle of these tensions and trigger points and, as a result, relieve the pain in many cases. Provided, of course, that it is caused by the muscle.
On this page you will learn about the technique of self-massage, where this muscle is located, which functions it has, how you can feel it and which situations can lead to problems in the muscle.
In addition to the pains illustrated above, trigger points often lead to (nightly) calf cramps.
The muscle can be divided into two muscle bellies, which run from your lateral and medial femur/thigh bone and the capsule of the knee joint down to the calcaneus/heel bone.
In the lower portion, the two bellies and the tendon of the soleus merge and form the Achilles tendon, which inserts onto the calcaneus or heel bone.
In simple terms, the gastrocnemius runs down from your thigh to your heel.
The functions of the gastrocnemius are the stabilization of the knee joint, the extension of the ankle joint, as well as in the control of the upright posture.
What is more, the muscle performs a supination at the ankle joint and slight flexion at the knee joint – although these are not its main functions.
Stabilization of the knee joint
Flexion of the ankle joint
Control of the upright posture
Mechanical overload, cool air and permanent approach/shortening are the most important factors.
As mentioned above, the muscle plays a particularly important role as soon as a powerful and fast extension of the ankle joint is required.
The following activities can lead to tensions and trigger points in the gastrocnemius, especially in condition of fatigue, with insufficient fitness level or too short regeneration phases.
Cool air and wind can cause trigger points in the muscle when directly exposed to these conditions (for example wearing shorts & skirts). This applies especially to untrained persons or a muscle that is already tired.
Permanent approach or shortening of a muscle is always a factor that can contribute to the activation of trigger points.
In this case, mainly positions in which the knees are bent, and the hocks are stretched can cause problems.
You will be able to feel this muscle with ease, because it lies close to the skin and can be grasped very well.
For the self-massage of the gastrocnemius, it is best to use a foam roller. This is an easy and effective way to work the muscle.
Alternatively, you can massage it with your thumbs. This makes sense if you want to get rid of very stubborn trigger points or if you want to penetrate deep into the tissue.
But now we start the massage with the foam roller:
Sit on the floor and place your calf on the roller. The upper half of the muscle or lower leg is the area of interest when it comes to the massage, because this is where the most intensive tensions and trigger points are located (see muscle picture).
Support yourself with your hands, slightly lift your buttocks and then slowly roll over the muscle. As soon as you hit a painful point, stay in that area and roll over it a few times.
Go on working this way the middle, the medial and the lateral side of your lower leg, all the way up to the hollow of your knee. Be careful not to omit any area.
Note I: In the beginning, keep the duration and pressure of the massage low and pay attention to the reactions of your body. Little by little you may increase these two variables and adapt them to your personal needs.
Note II: Also, in the middle and the lower compartment of the lower leg there are tensions and trigger points. However, these already are situated in the soleus.