man is relaxing with calf massage

In this article we will look at calf massage. More specifically, when to perform it, when it is not recommended, the techniques you can use to massage your calves and the benefits you can expect after a massage.

Calves are one of the most underappreciated muscles of our bodies. Unless they hurt, you might not think much about them, yet they are essential for most of our daily activities including standing, walking, running and of course, lifting weights.

the man feeling pain in the leg

This lack of attention changes the minute you experience pain, or you injure one of the two main muscles – the soleus and the gastrocnemius - in your calf.

Before we get to the massage part, we need to mention a few cases when a calf massage is NOT recommended and can even worsen or complicate the condition you are trying to eliminate.

When calf massage is not recommended

The first case is a fresh, acute injury of the calf muscles. It is not recommended to put pressure on a freshly injured muscle as it may lead to further taring the tissues instead of healing them. Always give a few days rest to the injured body parts before you attempt to massage them.

The second condition is called deep vein thrombosis or DVT. This is caused by a blood clot and is often associated with a deep pain and swelling of the calf area. You have to refrain from a massage if you experience these symptoms as loosening and releasing the blood clot into the blood stream could potentially lead to dangerous consequences.

If you have none of the above conditions, then a calf massage can be one of the most refreshing finish of a tiring day on your feet. Athletes such as frequent runners can also benefit from a regular calf and leg massage routine, as part of their training recovery strategy. Let’s explore why.

Calf massage benefits

Improved circulation

A thorough calf massage manipulates and loosens the muscles as well as the surrounding tissues. (1) This naturally leads to increases blood circulation and helps maintaining normal blood flow, eventually leading to improved circulation overall.

calf massage treatment for leg

A healthy, continuous blood flow helps preventing muscle deterioration by supplying oxygen and other vital nutrients to the muscles and carrying metabolic waste materials away at the same time.

This also happens to be one of the best ways to prevent the above-mentioned deep vein thrombosis, which can develop into a potentially fatal condition.

Pain reduction

After you have given a few days for an injury to heal, a gentle calf massage can help to reduce any remaining pain by loosening up any potential muscle knots and releasing muscle tension.

You can also seek out the help of a massage therapist specializing in trigger-point massages. This technique has also been proven to be beneficial in more stubborn cases of muscle pain.

Improved flexibility

Many people have problems with their calf muscles tightening up, as they become stiff and restricted in certain positions. When the muscles are relaxed, they will be able to move freely through their daily routines.

a women relaxing leg with calf massage

This would not only help with any aches and pains that you might be experiencing, but also to help your muscles stay more flexible for years to come. During a massage session the temperature of the muscles raises, leading to increased elasticity. This, combined with the stretching and loosening of the tissues is what helps to improve flexibility.

Injury prevention

The increased circulation and the healthy flow of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles lead to a healthier, stronger, and more flexible calf. This will naturally result in wider range of movement, better rate of recovery after exercise and a much better chance of preventing future injuries.

Scar tissue reduction

During an injury, especially if some muscle tear has happened, the body’s healing process include the creation of scar tissue. This scar tissue attaches to the surrounding fascia and muscles, often leading to a restricted range of motion. 

These tissues are mainly made up of collagen, which lack proper circulation and as such, reducing the overall quality of circulation in the lower leg.

Since we have already discussed the benefits of having an improved circulation, it’s a no brainer that we don’t want too much scar tissue to block it. A skilled massage therapist can prevent the adhesion of scar tissue and restore blood flow as well as mobility to the affected areas.

Calf massage techniques

Calf massages can be performed in various ways, depending on whether you are alone, you have another person to help you or you wanna use a calf massage device.

If you are alone, start by sitting down and working your way over the calf muscles with a gentle stroking motion. This will help to warm up the muscles as well as judge the level of pain you might experience. If you feel no uncomfortable pain, you can gradually increase the pressure you apply and work your way over the muscle multiple times.

If you have a roller, it is also an excellent way to perform a calf or a even a full leg massage.

If there is another person with you to help with the massage, it’s even better. Have the person receiving the massage lay down flat, facing the ground. The other person then can start the procedure with the same light strokes to warm up the muscles. This technique is called effleurage.

Once the muscles are warm and there is no pain, the person can progress to other techniques such as skin rolling and hacking to relieve tightness and improve tissue elasticity.

Lastly, you can use dedicated leg and calf massagers to do the work for you. These home massage tools can be an excellent investment for athletes and people who regularly experience muscle tension in the calves and legs.

Related questions

Is it good to massage your calves?

Yes, as we have discussed above, if you don’t have one of the contraindications, massaging your calves is good practice and have many positive effects and benefits. Combined with stretches, they can form part of a regular recovery strategy after sports.

Why do calf massages hurt?

If your calves are hurting during a massage this might indicate they you haven’t waited long enough for the muscles to recover after an injury. Another potential cause might be an accumulation of fluids in the calf muscles called venous insufficiency.

runner feeling calf pain after running

Does massage reduce calf size?

While reducing calf size is not the primary goal of calf massage, there are several programs claiming that this can be done. The technique involves a forceful massage of the calf muscles up and down, after soaking the area for 10-15 minutes in warm water.

Grant Moore