Gastrocnemius Muscle: Knee, Low Leg, Ankle, Arch Pain

Pain behind the knee, inside the calf, the inside ankle and the arch of the foot are indications of gastrocnemius dysfunction.

What symptoms and pain are associated with the gastrocnemius muscle?

  • Pain in the arch of the foot
  • Pain toward the outside of the back of the knee
  • Pain toward  the inside of the back of the knee
  • Pain going down the inside of the lower leg
  • Cramps in the calf
  • Pain on the inside of the foot in the high arch
  • Occasionally pain on the outside of the heel

Where is the gastrocnemius muscle?

The gastrocnemius attaches to the thigh bone (femur) just above the back of the knee runs down the back of the leg joining into the Achilles tendon which continues down to connect to the heel  (calcaneus).

What movements does the gastrocnemius muscle control?

  • Standing on your toes
  • Pointing your toes
  • Assists with bending the knee

Activities that cause rectus femoris pain and symptoms:

  • Walking uphill
  • Climbing
  • Climbing stairs
  • Cycling
  • Jumping
  • Swimming with toes pointed (flutter kick)
  • Wearing high heels
  • Tight banded socks or stockings
  • Using footstools and recliners that put pressure on the back of the calves
  • Sitting in a chair with knees pressed against the seat
  • Sleeping with the covers tucked in too tightly requiring the toes to remain in a pointed, downward position
  • Immobility of the lower leg due to a cast or brace

Gastrocnemius Muscle

You use the gastrocnemius muscle to point your toes, stand on your toes and straighten you knee.

Interesting facts about the gastrocnemius:

  • Unresolved pain in the high arch of the foot is the primary symptom of gastroc dysfunction.
  • Trigger points and a short tight gastroc muscle is a prime source of lower leg cramps or ‘charley horses’.
  • Body chills due to extreme cold or illness will cause the gastroc to shorten and tighten causing lower leg pain.
  • The gastroc is the muscle that gives the calf its shape.

Clinical diagnoses to which the gastrocnemius muscle symptoms may contribute:

  • Leg cramping at night
  • Tennis leg
  • Post-exercise soreness
  • Posterior compartment syndrome
  • Buckling knee syndrome
  • Dislocation/Subluxation of the knee
  • Torn lateral meniscus
  • Peripheral vascular disease (PVD)
  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Superficial vascular thrombosis (SVT)
  • Varicose veins
  • Rupture or torn Gastrocnemius
  • Muscle sprain/strain of the calf
  • Baker’s cyst
  • Ruptured Achilles’ tendon
  • Achilles tendinitis
  • Plantar fasciitis

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the gastrocnemius:

Satellite trigger points associated with the gastrocnemius:

  • Soleus
  • Biceps Femoris
  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus

For detailed anatomy information: Gastrocnemius Muscle Anatomy Study

Help with Gastrocnemius Muscle Injury and Pain

Cold Therapy Gel For Knee, Lower Leg and Foot Pain

Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel is an excellent pain relieving gel and I recommend it for those who have sudden onset muscle pain or recent injuries. It is better to use than warm therapy gels and creams for muscle pain caused by inflammation as it cools the area much like ice. A recent study showed that Biofreeze decreased pain 2 times more than ice and the pain relief lasts 9 – 10 longer. Rub Biofreeze over the back and sides of the lower leg, down into the ankle and inside of the arch to fully treat gastroc muscle pain.

Hot Cold Pack For Lower Leg Treatment

CorPak Soft Comfort Hot & Cold Pack Wrap is a versatile pack that can be used to treat the lower leg, foot / ankle, as well as other areas of the body. This pack works well for the gastroc muscle as it will cover the length of the calf and can then be used to wrap the foot for full treatment. The pack is filled with pliable gel and has a soft frost free cover that will not irritate your skin. For recent injuries, use it cold to reduce swelling. For older injures or chronic pain use heat to relax the muscles and increase circulation.

Warm Therapy Gel for Rectus Femoris Muscle Pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is a pain relieving gel that is highly recommended. It provides warmth without burning heat and is great for relieving pain. Applying Sombra to the muscles on the front of the thigh, down into the knee can help reduce pain and tightness caused by the gastrocnemius muscle. I recommend Sombra for chronic pain and chronically sore tight calf and other lower leg muscles.

Lower Leg Compression Sleeves

Lower Leg Compression Sleeves are used by many athletes. Compression sleeves provide compression, support and warmth without adding bulk to the lower leg muscles. Sleeves are recommended by athletic trainers for strained calf muscles and overuse injuries of the lower leg muscles. Sleeves are also great as a preventative measure against tired sore calf muscles after sports activities. Compression sleeves are also shown to reduce recovery time after strenuous activities and injury.

Note: If you suspect or have ever been diagnosed with blood clots consult your doctor before using compression sleeves or braces.

Graduated Compression Socks for Support and Recovery

Eurosocks Over The Calf Compression Socks have become a go-to for both amateur and professional athletes for lower leg, ankle and foot injury recovery. Graduated compression helps relieve pain from muscle stiffness and soreness as well as discouraging inflammation. The socks wickable fabric keeps skin dry and DryStat technology inhibits the growth of odor causing microbes. The over the calf style works very well for gastroc muscle recovery as the sock will cover the entire muscle. If you suspect or have been treated for blood clots, consult with a doctor before using compression on the lower legs.

Full Knee Brace To Relieve Knee Pain and Stiffness

The gastrocnemius muscle can contribute to stiff knees and knee pain. Professional Choice Knee Support is one of the best knee braces I have used. It provides support to weak buckling knees and provides heat to help keep the muscle, ligaments, tendons and joint mobile. The two Velcro bands are adjustable and provide compression for the muscle to bone connection of the gastroc muscle. Although it looks bulky, it is comfortable and was made for people who ride horses who bend and straighten their knees for extended periods of time. It does not bind or pinch. If you are prone to knee injury and buckling knees I highly recommend this brace.

Neoprene Calf/Shin Brace Splint

Neo G Medical Grade VCS Calf Support/Shin Splint provides support and warmth to the lower leg muscles. This brace is recommended for Achilles tendon strain or sprain, and also strains, sprains and overuse injuries of the lower leg muscles. An excellent choice for gastroc muscle support.  If you suspect or have ever been diagnosed with blood clots consult your doctor before using this brace.

Stretch The Calf and Foot Muscles To Relieve Gastrocnemius Pain

Medi-Dyne Pro Stretch for Plantar Fascitis and Calf Pain is a device that provides a deep stretch to the foot and lower leg muscles. This device is used in many physical therapists offices and rehab facilities to those who have lower leg pain and cramps and for those who suffer from plantar fasciitis, ankle and foot pain When you first use the Pro Stretch be sure to start off slowly, 5 to 10 seconds per stretch, gradually building up reps and longer stretch times.

Note: Consult a medical professional if you suspect tendon tear or rupture.

Self Treatment Tools For Gastrocnemius Pain

I recommend The Tiger Tail 18″ Roller to use on both upper and lower leg muscles to help relieve muscle tension and pain. I like the Tiger Tail for its ease of use and because it does not strain the wrists and hands. You do not have to contort into different positions or get on the floor or up against the wall to use this foam roller, simply roll it up or down the muscle. The 18″ is a good size to use on leg muscles as well as other muscles. The roller is also recommended by physical therapists, athletic trainers and doctors for self-treatment of muscles in between appointments. It works well on the gastrocnemius muscle to relieve tightness and pain in the calf. Start the roller at the bottom of the back of the lower leg and roll up toward the back of the knee. (Do not use on the area behind the knee!)  Be sure to work the full muscle, going up the middle of the leg as well as the sides. Start off light, with just a few strokes, stop and wait a few hours to see how the muscle and soft tissue react. Over doing rolling can make the pain and soreness worse.

Self Treatment For Gastrocnemius Low Leg, Knee, And Foot Pain

Do you know that “knots” and other dysfunction in the gastroc muscle can cause knee, ankle and foot arch pain as well as lower leg pain?

If you have any of these symptoms I recommend that you purchase Claire Davies  The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. Mr. Davies explains the trigger point phenomenon and muscle pain in everyday language.  But what makes this book worth its weight in gold are the individual muscle trigger point treatments that Davies has compiled. His diagrams and step by step instructions help you locate which muscles are contributing to your pain, how to find the trigger point and treat it. If you suffer from unresolved lower leg, ankle and heel pain I highly recommend this book. It takes time and practice to master finding trigger points, but once you learn you have a tool and method to help with muscle pain throughout the body. Relieving trigger points in the gastrocnemius muscles may help you resolve your leg and knee pain issues. This book is a must have for anyone interested in finding the cause and treating muscle pain.

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