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Foam roller not enough to loosen up calves

edited February 2014 in Running Injuries
Hi all,
Went to PT yesterday and found out I have a mild case of PF. I can still run and be active (it sounds remarkably a lot like what Peter wrote about in a blog post), which is great, but as I'm about to gear up in training/mileage I know I have to really work to keep things loose. My calves are insanely, remarkably, crazy tight, lol (esp. my right). My PT suggested using a tennis ball to roll and had me try it out but I could not for the life of me retain my balance. My lower legs are also on the skinny side, so there just isn't a lot of mass to center over it (sigh.) Or I'm a klutz!

Anyway, the foam roller doesn't release those trigger points for me, as I roll my entire lower half consistently. I can modify the tennis ball rolling but I'm afraid it's not enough pressure to do what I need. Is there another tool that I should look into? I mentioned the rumble roller but my PT didn't seem to think it was that different in efficacy from a traditional foam roller (I have a standard black dense one).

Relatedly, I run in 8mm drop shoes mostly, and before I found out I had PT I just bought a pair of PureFlow 3s. I love how they feel but am thinking now is not the time to start running in 4mm drop.... Thoughts?


  • JimJim
    edited February 2014
    Try 'The Stick' for your calves. You can really localize in on spots with it. Like this one:

    Also, use a tennis ball to roll your foot on for the PF. Like this demo:

    Everything is connected, so loosening one area can take pressure off another area.
  • I had chronic calf issues for a long time.  My PT recommended another approach to how to roll the calves as well as using the trigger point tools and it has done wonders for my calves, I was a chronic tight calf person and since using the approach/tools, I can't recall the last time I had issues...  I included a picture of the tools I use and link to a video I found that is similar to what I do. The main difference is dividing your calf into three small isolated areas to work - using the little roller in the two lower areas and the ball (tennis ball like) in the larger upper calve area.   I initially used the method with a black foam roller (and it helped a little) but moving to the TP made all the difference (and no I don't work for them :-)).
    Starter Set

  • Here's my input, which I'm sure no one will find helpful, but here goes:

    Towards the end of last summer, after 4 marathons and several other races, I was concerned that maybe my calves were feeling tight. I did just about all of my training runs in minimal zero drop shoes, and raced only in racing flats. I was thinking about doing some more races in the early fall, so I was worried that my calves might be an issue. I tried rolling them one day on a foam pool noodle thing and a couple of different sized balls. Jesus Christ! Who thinks this is a good idea? It hurt like hell and didn't seem to help. I decided to trust that my calves were tough enough to take the punishment of low drop, minimal shoes. They hadn't been a problem up to that point, and I'd always just ignored any soreness in them, because it always seemed to go away when I ran. They never bothered me again. So yeah, maybe your calf muscles are tougher than you think.
  • I use a softball, hardball or lacrosse ball depending on how deep I want to get.

  • Michael, you may be right, but I'm finding that there are a lot of issues with my feet that tend to be caused by tight calves.  If you're not having problems, you might not be in the "target market" for this question.

  • edited February 2014
    I find a foam roller helps.  I use it as much as a diagnostic tool as a therapeutic one.  If I have a problem in my calves and use the foam roller it hurts like hell.  If my calves are healthy they will handle the foam roller without problems.  If I have a problem in my calf I've leant that beating the living daylights out of it is the wrong thing to do.  

    If you calves are tight and painful, and causing problems elsewhere such as with your plantar fascia then it's a sign that they have tightened up in a response to damage in the calves.  If you have damaged a few muscle fibres the surrounding muscle fibres will tighten and take the load of the damaged ones to give them time to heal.  Once the healing is complete the fibres will relax.  If you try and force the surrounding fibres to relax before the healing is complete you'll just set yourself back.

    In this situation I've found regular massage with the foam roller helpful, but don't get aggressive with it.  Just stimulate the blood flow and the immune response.  Exercise wise you'll need to give the calves time to heal and relax.  Use regular recovery paced runs, work on relaxing the calves and ankles whilst they are in the air.  Relaxing your wrists and forearms can be a good cue to relaxing your lower leg.  The recovery runs will de-tune your muscles and keep them relaxed, and stimulate blood flow and help things heel.  Wear what ever footwear allows you to relax the most when running.

    Keep using the foam roller and once it isn't painful you should be good to go.  You'll need to be patient, make sure you are healed up before upping your mileage, if you don't you'll sideline yourself completely with a more serious injury.
  • edited February 2014
    I have "The Stick" original model. I got it just for my calves because I couldn't really get them with a foam roller. It works great. It's also pretty convenient if you want to carry it in your car to a race since you don't have to roll around on the ground to use it.
  • Bryan, maybe you're right, but I just don't think I'm somehow a special person with superman calves or something. I have had achy, tight calves, as I mentioned, so I thought I had something to add. 

    Sometimes I feel like I'm pretty fragile, so that's why I walk around barefoot a lot and do most of my running in minimal stuff. I get instant feedback when something is not right. That lady talked about running in 8mm drop shoes. I would suggest she run less but do more of it in low drop, minimal stuff. At the same time, it might be a good idea if she was barefoot most of the time around the house. She might find that things start loosening up, and any aches in her calves may just be sign that they are being used correctly. 
  • Hi all,
    Thanks for your help! I'm definitely intrigued by the Trigger Point tools (more gear! heh). I have "The Stick" and will use it more often, but have never found it was better than the foam roller. Perhaps I'm not being as aggressive with it as I could, although I don't want to go nutso on myself further! I have slowly been transitioning to lower drop shoes with 8mm being the first step. Honestly, though, I like them quite a bit and am not sure I really feel the need to go any lower (I really like the NB 890v3s - before my shoes were far more rigid and I like the mix of firm-ish cushioning and flexibility). I think my issues have been ongoing, but I recently started adding speed work and spin class without fully getting at my tight calves and now I'm feeling things a bit more. I don't feel like things are terrible either - I just want to get them looser before I progress. My PT has been spot-on with me and right now she's got me rolling differently and stretching in different ways to get at the different parts of my calves. I'm easing off the speedwork and just going to focus on easy-paced runs until I can loosen and strengthen my calves more. Thanks again!
  • You'll need to be careful about stretching as it could well cause more problems, massage good, most stretching bad.  The soc doc has written a useful post on the topic:
  • I recommend working through your calves with your thumbs.  Find a spot and press in hard with both thumbs.  If its super tight move a round a little and find the center (hurts more).  Do 10 seconds on 10 seconds off 4 or so times.  Move around and find the next tight spot.  

    I had something like what your describing.  Felt like PF but didn't cause any issues during activity (morning tightness).  It was tied directly to my tight calves and once I was able to get them loosened up it disappeared.  I used a mix of my thumbs and a angle board to stretch my calves.

    Rollers, The Stick, etc none of these were isolated enough to hit the core of the trouble spots which tended to be along the edges on the lower muscle and in the knot where the top and bottom muscles started intermixing.

  • There is definitely a difference between the rumble roller and regular foam rollers.  I tried one of the rumble rollers out at Dick's while Christmas shopping.  I made sure no one was looking and got down on the ground and rolled my quad...painful!  And it continued to sting after I got up! 

    I would agree with yugami, it is often easier to work your calves with your thumbs.  It can be hard on your thumbs though, but seems to be more effective than foam rollers, the stick, etc. 
  • Rumble roller is a torture device :)
  • Thanks for the additional replies! Funnily enough, before I read these I went to Dick's on Saturday and saw they had a rumble roller. I, too, did the surreptitious test and WOW. Yea, there is definitely a difference. I rolled my calves and on one leg I actually felt my arch "light up" if that makes sense. It was a weird sensation but it seemed like it was telling me, it's all connected! So that's on my list.

    It's amazing how much gear I have for a simple sport that I am very average at! ;-)
  • Hi Tina, so many points in your initial post are familiar, even down to the right calf being tighter and the PF more sore there.  I see that you have gotten lots of feedback from others on different pressure release techniques and you appear on your way with that. What also caught my eye was your reference to Pure3's and concern about trying 4mm drop now. I have found success in switching to more mid-foot strike to alleviate lots of ITB problems and when I did that, I went to 4mm drop as a part of that change.  Good news, the form change has alleviated much of the ITB strain, but a side effect is more calf tightness -- especially in the beginning and when I increase mileage. Sooo, if you are having tight calves now, be mindful that switching to 4mm drop (Pure3s or any other) can have that effect.  I had gotten good advice to do a gradual transition.  Good Luck!
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