Are my calves making my back hurt?

Are you on your feet a lot? The more you are on your feet does it seem like your back pain gets more aggravated. Well, your calves are likely not the cause of your back pain; however, they could be aggravating it.

Seemingly, everyone has tight calves. You may be wondering what that has to do with back pain. Well, a lot actually. Let me explain. When your calves are tight it pushes your balancing point, also called your center of gravity, backward some.

When you balance point is pushed toward the backside of your body, it causes your hips to flex and that causes your back muscles to work harder. You do not want your back muscles to work harder, right? Especially when they are hurting like crazy. You want them to relax because the spasms and stiffness is ridiculously uncomfortable.

Your walking is also affected by tight calves. As you walk the foot that is bearing your weight has to flex, which stretches out your calf muscles. If the calves are tight, then you cannot take a full stride. This causes various muscles around your pelvis and spine to work harder to compensate. Once again, you do not need these muscles to be working harder when they are already giving you pain.

If your calves are tight how do you fix it? There are two muscles in the calf – the gastroc and the soleus. Both of them need to be stretched; however, the approach to stretching each of them is similar, but different.

The gastroc is stretched with the knee straight and the soleus is stretched with the knee bent. There are several approaches to stretching these muscles; however, I prefer to use stairs because the effect of the body weight on the stretch seems to make it more effective. Here is an image for the gastroc muscle for stretching:

gastrocnemius-stretch-stairsMake certain you hold the stretch for a minimum of 30 sec because it takes approximately 15 sec for a muscle to give into a stretch; therefore, that gives you a solid 15 sec of stretch. Do 3 repetitions of each stretch. Keep in mind that the elastic component in muscles is very similar to that of a rubber band. The longer you hold the muscle stretched out, the more likely it is going to maintain that new position.

Do not bounce on this to get more stretch! You will only tear individual muscle fibers and that will cause scar tissue to form as it heals. Scar tissue is much less elastic than muscle tissue so that will lead to less flexibility in the future.

Many individuals like to do both calves at the same time; however, I prefer to do one at a time. Yes, it does take more time; however, all of your body weight is going through one leg primarily as you are stretching so you will get more of a stretch. If you are doing both at the same time only half of your body weight is pushing through each of your legs, so it may not be as effective since you have less weight pushing through each muscle.

The soleus muscle can also be stretched on a step; however, the trick is to keep the knee bent during the stretch. Here is an image:

soleus stretch This stretch can be more difficult to do with the knee bent; however, do it a few times and it will get easier. You should notice that the stretch with the soleus is felt closer to the heel cord, whereas the gastroc is typically felt in the upper muscle belly. As with the Gastroc stretch hold the stretch for 30 sec and do 3 in a row.

In some instances, stretching of the calves never seem to make the loosen up. In these cases, extra help may be required to improve in flexibility. Techniques to release the soft tissues such as myofascial release and Active Release Techniques (ART) can do wonders in these cases.

As an added bonus, Active Release can release a specific spot at the top of the calf called the tendinous arch of the soleus. The tibial nerve can get entrapped here which can cause tension in the entire nerve complex of the leg which can aggravate any instances of sciatica and will also negatively affect balance. I personally have had issues with a nerve entrapment here, and it feels like the ankle and foot just cannot adjust to uneven surfaces and I was constantly losing my balance. I can only imagine how these frequent losses of balance would feel with back pain… OUCH!

Active Release is a highly specialized approach to releasing overuse injuries. You can find a provider local to you at If you are local to me in Wadsworth Ohio then I can help you out since I have been doing ART since 2001.

I am available for a free phone consult if you are uncertain what to do for your pain. I will help you figure out what to do first to get the best results. Click here to schedule a consultation with me. I would love to be a part of your success story in relieving your back and leg pain. 

In Abundant Health,

Lisa Marie Keller


About Lisa Marie Keller

Lisa Marie Keller wants to live in a world where it is commonplace to dance to the music of life. As a pain management specialist, she's been working as a Physical Therapist resolving the pain of her patients for a variety of conditions including but not limited to chronic back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, knee pain foot pain and even headaches for over thirteen years. Following seven years of traditional schooling and more years than she would like to remember at the School of Hard Knocks resolving her own pain and body dysfunctions she has become the Queen of Conquering Pain. When she’s not pondering on how to solve the next health dilemma, you can find her dancing around in her living room to music that is played much too loud, making snobby comments about amazing wine and fantasizing about where she is going to travel to next. Her first book — Free My Back — hit the Amazon Marketplace in August 2014. You can get a free e-book version of Free My Back by registering at
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