Calf & Lower Leg

Anatomy

The gastrocnemius is located with the soleus in the posterior compartment of the leg. It originates from the posterior (back) surfaces of the distal head of the femur. Its other end forms a common tendon with the soleus muscle; this tendon is known as the calcaneal tendon or Achilles Tendon and inserts onto the posterior surface of the calcaneus, or mountain bone.

Deep to the gastrocnemius (farther from the skin) is the soleus muscle. Some anatomists consider both to be a single muscle, the triceps surae. The plantaris muscle and a portion of its tendon run between the two muscles, which is involved in "locking" the knee from the standing position. On the other side of the fascia are the tibialis posterior muscle, the flexor digitorum longus muscle, and the flexor hallucis longus muscle, along with the posterior tibial artery and posterior tibial vein and the tibial nerve. Since the anterior compartment of the leg is lateral to the tibia, the bulge of muscle medial to the tibia on the anterior side is actually the posterior compartment. The soleus is superficial midshaft of the tibia. Frequently there is a sesamoid bone called the "fabella" in the lateral head of gastrocnemius muscle.

Common Injuries & Pains

The gastrocnemius muscle is very prone to spasms; the painful, involuntary, contraction of the muscle for up to several minutes. This muscle is prone to injury called torn calf muscle which is disabling. The Gastrocnemius muscle may also become inflamed due to overuse. Anti-inflammatory and physical therapy may be necessary. Anatomical abnormalities involving the medial head of gastrocnemius muscle results in popliteal entrapment syndrome.

Be-Your-Own Therapist Home Treatment

If your leg problem does not require an evaluation by a doctor, you may be able to use home treatment to help relieve pain, swelling, stiffness or muscle cramps.

Rest and protect a stiff or sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be causing your pain or soreness.

Ice will reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice or cold packs immediately to prevent or minimize swelling. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.

For the first 48 hours, avoid things that might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, or alcoholic beverages.

After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply heat and begin gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between heat and cold treatments.

Compression, or wrapping the sore area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help decrease swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, as this can cause more swelling below the area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling in the area below the bandage. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to use a wrap for longer than 48 to 72 hours; a more serious problem may be present.

Elevate the area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling.

Remove all rings , anklets, or any other jewelry that goes around an extremity. It will be more difficult to remove the jewelry once swelling develops.

Gently massage or rub the area to relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Do not rub or massage your calf if swelling is present. If swelling is caused by a blood clot, massage could cause the blood clot to break off and travel through your bloodstream.

Stand and move your legs. Gentle motion may help with cramps that are brought on by exercise.

Drink plenty of fluids. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, will often help leg cramps. For more information about the home treatment of muscle cramps that are often caused by dehydration from exercise or heat. If you think your child is having growing pains, try warmth and massage to relieve discomfort in the legs. Do not rub or massage a calf that is swollen.

For leg cramps, consider wearing support stockings during the day, and take frequent rest periods (with your feet up). If leg cramps occur during pregnancy, make sure you are eating a diet rich in calcium and magnesium. Talk with your doctor about taking a calcium supplement. He or she may recommend a calcium supplement that does not contain phosphorus. Do not smoke. Smoking slows healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair.

Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment

Consult your physician immediately if any of the following symptoms occur during home treatment:

  • You are unable to use your leg normally.
  • Pain or swelling develops.
  • Signs of infection develop.
  • Numbness or tingling develops.
  • Cool, pale skin develops.
  • Symptoms continue after 1 to 2 weeks of home treatment.
  • Symptoms become more frequent or more severe.

Massage Technique for a Leg Massage

When giving a leg massage, use oil and focus on the hamstrings, because they are usually tight. Give a leg massage with tips from a massage instructor in this free video on massage therapy and techniques.



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