The Gastrocnemius (Calf Muscle) and Its Wingman

It appears runners have a propensity for pulling the same muscles – not just over and over – the same muscles. If you are a runner, chances are you will eventually injure the quad, hamstring and/or calf muscles.

As soon as I got home from the marathon last month, I began researching a pulled muscle in the calf. I have not suffered from a pulled calf muscle since the days that I played tennis. Finding the source of this injury was a priority, the answer a little surprising.

imageThe first indication of a problem during the race came in the form of cramping in my legs, specifically the quads of both legs, my right hamstring (which has been injured before) and my right calf. Eventually, it was the calf muscle that seemed to lock up and hurt.

Muscles that are the most prone to cramps are those that cross two joints. Examples of such muscles are the hamstrings, gastrocnemius (one of the calf muscles) and rectus femoris (the longest of the quadriceps muscles). These muscles sound familiar already, right? The hamstrings span the hip and knee, the gastrocnemius spans the knee and ankle and the rectus femoris crosses the hip and knee.

The gastrocnemius muscle along with the soleus muscle forms the calf muscle. Its function is plantar flexing the foot at the ankle joint and flexing the leg at the knee joint. As soon as I saw the picture of the gastrocnemius muscle, I knew it was the culprit of my troubles.

The gastrocnemius muscle is prone to spasms: painful, involuntary, contractions of the muscle. The surprise came when I read that a severe ankle dorsiflexion force may result in an injury of this muscle, commonly referred to as a “torn” or “strained” calf muscle, which is acutely painful and disabling.

During Kung Fu class last week, I explained to Sifu the pain I had felt in my calf. He immediately suggested there was a link between the problems I had before the race with my right ankle and the painful calf – that perhaps my calf muscles “gave out” under the stress of supporting the ankle during the race.

Once again I am reminded that every muscle, tendon and bone in our body has a wingman so-to-speak. Without the support of one another, they don’t last very long under the stress we put them through.

A runner can not focus only on those major muscle groups that give us the ability to run. The wingman must also be strong, able and trained to fully do their jobs. Everybody has to work together to be successful.

References and Additional Reading:

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