Many people believe that something like your calf muscle is simply that. However like so much in your body, the calf muscle isn’t quite so simple. The calf muscle is made up of several muscles. The gastrocnemius (gastroc) and the soleus are what usually cause pain. Deeper than these two are the tibialis posterior, flexor digitorum and flexor hallucis longus, along with nerves and blood vessels.
It’s important to talk about the two biggest muscles in your calf, the gastroc and the soleus. The gastroc has two heads and crosses two joints (the knee and the ankle). The medial and lateral heads originate on the back of the large bone in your thigh just above the knee. Both heads come together and attach at the large bone that makes up the heel thanks to the Achilles’ tendon. The main action of the gastroc is to point your foot at the ankle, raise your heel during walking and provide a bending moment at the knee.
The soleus is deeper and originates further down on the lower leg. The soleus is on the small outer bone in your shin called the fibula and upper rear surface of the larger, more prominent shin bone called the tibia.
The soleus attaches in the same spot as the gastroc, which is why they are often referred to as the gastroc-soleus complex. The soleus also points your foot at the ankle and helps you keep your balance when standing on one leg. Just try standing on one leg for 30 seconds and you may feel a burning sensation as your muscle works, which will help you know where the soleus is.
This all may seem a little dense and you may ask yourself why you need to know any of this stuff. Ignoring lingering pain that you can’t really locate can lead to much bigger issues down the road. It’s far better to be able to correctly identify and talk with your doctor about any pain you may have.
If you are having any issues with pointing your foot, standing still, walking, skiing or other activities that likely means that you are having troubles with your gastroc or soleus. If that’s the case you should come and see our team at Miccass Physical Therapy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Our talented and knowledgeable staff can determine the right treatment to rid you of calf pain and get you back on your feet without strain on your gastroc, soleus or anything else!