Is it all in the calf muscle?
When an athlete comes into you with a tight calf muscle, one of the questions asked is - do you stretch? Often the answer is “Yes, I have tried many stretches but they do not seem to work very well”. I have also tried the foam rolling it helps a little. And having a calf massage feels good afterwards but the muscles soon tighten back up again.
What else could I try?
The question maybe are the calf muscles the problem or are they reacting to something else going on? What are the quads and hamstrings doing? Are they tight ? What’s happening at the foot? It’s always worth checking motion in the back, hips and pelvis for mobility and strength. A compensation of some sort in these areas could influence a calf muscle tightness.
Ankle mobility - check for restrictions around the ankle joint - trying to mobilise the ankle joint with non-weight bearing exercises will give an indication of movement of the ankle and compare with the other ankle. Using both closed and open chain exercises can assist in achieving more mobility.
For runners, the way you run may have an influence on tight calf muscles, landing forefoot with no heel contact on the floor, or suddenly changing from heel running to forefoot running could also load the calf muscles. Remember running is a skill and some some runners just need to be coached, your balance, co-ordination and rhythm could have an influence on your running gait. Usually running form changes would be further down the line.
Have you changed your running routes and included more hill work? Are you doing more sprints? What about your running shoes have you changed them? Using a running shoe with a different heel drop, a 12mm drop may help calf muscles, but a running shoe that is flatter from rearfoot to forefoot may cause some runners aggravation in the Achilles or calf muscle, there is some evidence in the research to suggest this could be an issue.
Have you had any back issues, or injuries to the hip, knee or ankle? Is the calf complex strong enough? These all need to be taken into consideration for a tightness in the calf muscle.
So sometimes you just need to do some detective work to find out what’s happening to grab a few degrees of movement from different areas to decrease that calf tightness.