15 Reasons Why You Need Foam Rolling For Your Calves


Calves are called second hearts because they are the main force enhancing the return of blood from the lower extremity up. The efficient activity of the calf muscle pump and sufficient range of motion is essential to ensure the right blood flow.

Foam rolling is good for sore calves because it helps with myofascial tension release and improves ankle range of motion. Tight fascia transit the pressure throughout the soleus, gastrocnemius, and Achilles tendon. This creates muscle restriction during activities like walking, jogging, or standing.

Learn how to take care of your calves and how to use foam rollers effectively. Here are 15 benefits and reasons why to use a foam roller on your calves.

Foam Rolling Calves For Pain Management

Foam rolling does help with calf pain because it desensitizes painful trigger points. Calf pain is commonly caused by gastrocnemius-soleus complex restriction, and treatments like self-myofascial release or manual foam rolling reduce muscle stiffness and get rid of the pain.

What does rolling your calves do? Foam rolling your calves helps to relax the muscles in your lower leg. Muscle tension, lack of stretching, stress, aging, overtraining, running, and genetic predispositions all lead to calf muscle stiffness. Regular use of a foam roller will help to reclaim some of the range of motion.

Reason #1: Reduces calf pain

Does foam roller help with calf pain? Using a foam roller for sore calves is a good option because it allows you to be consistent with your treatment. Typically, the best results are achieved with regular practice so being able to foam roll your calves at home helps to stay more consistent.

Here are the steps to use a foam roller for calf pain:

Foam rolling for calf pain
  • Sit down on the floor keeping around 90 degrees angle in your hips.
  • Place a foam roller under your right calf muscle.
  • Find the spot which feels painful and start rolling side to side.
  • To facilitate myofascial release better, you can add dorsiflexion and plantarflexion (point and flex your toes) as you foam roll. This will add muscle fibers movement and help to reach the trigger points more effectively.
  • Put your left leg on top of the right one to create extra pressure.

Alternatively, you can ask your partner to gently press on your lower leg while you point and flex your calf. This will create more pressure and helps to reach those hidden corners of muscular pain that regular pressure may not be sufficient.

Reason #2: Helps with calf strain

The foam roller is a good way to address a calf strain because it can release muscle tension and treat some of the trigger points that cause myofascial tension. Massage therapy or foam rolling are some of the techniques widely used to enhance calf strain recovery.

Most common calf strains result from minor tears of some muscle fibers. The myofascial release, massage, or foam rolling can help to restore range of motion, enhance circulation, and speed up the recovery process.

According to Prof of Sports Medicine Jan Ekstrand from UEFA, calf muscle strains are the fifth of the most common injuries in elite European football teams.

InjuryInjuries per team per seasonAbsence in days
Hamstring strain6-714
Adduction injury4-59
Ankle sprain3-48
Quadriceps injury2-314
Calf muscle injury2-315
Knee sprain (MCL)216
Knee contusion1-25
Thigh contusion2-34
Achilles tendinopathy110
Lower back pain15
Ekstrand et al 2015 (source)

Some of the elite European football teams adopted foam rolling as a recovery protocol to prevent form most common muscle injuries.

Does a foam roller help with calf strain? Regular foam rolling does help with the calf strain because it decreases muscle soreness, enhances tissue repair and recovery from the strain. A calf strain is common in sports and things like foam rolling, compression garments, and massage therapy are all effective strategies to recover faster.

Reason #3: Helps with plantar fasciitis

According to Dr. Daniel Riddle from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, one out of every ten people will suffer from plantar fasciitis in their lifetime. Worldwide, around 2 million people receive some type of treatment every year for this condition (source)

Foam rolling does help with plantar fasciitis because it helps to reduces muscle restriction and improves ankle range of motion. Tightness in the gastrocnemius muscle leads to dorsiflexion stiffness in the ankle and it’s a common reason for strain in the plantar fascia.

You can massage plantar fasciitis because it will loosen the tendons, ligaments, and fascia that surrounds the heel. The use of a massage ball, tennis ball, foam roller, or eccentric calf stretching with additional stretches for the fascia can help to relax sensitive areas.

Some of the tools like massage roller are good for plantar fasciitis because they help to desensitize the painful areas. Foam rolling your calves reduces gastrocnemius tightness, Achilles tendon tension, and dorsiflexion stiffness of the ankle.

Here’s how you massage plantar fasciitis with a roller:

Foam rolling for plantar fasciitis
  • Start by placing a foam roller or a massage ball on the floor.
  • Place your foot on the roller.
  • Gently apply the pressure on the roller using the sole of your foot.
  • Slowly roll back and forth from your heel, through the mid-foot to the metatarsal part.
  • Continue for 2-5 minutes and repeat for another leg

Reason #4: Helps with calf cramps

In general, you can foam roll calf cramp because it will improve muscle perfusion and reduce muscle tension. Foam rolling, stretching and gentle rubbing the calf muscle will promote the blood supply and reduce the muscle stiffness that can contribute to the cramp.

It may feel a little bit tender when you foam roll your calves.

Your calves hurt when you’re foam rolling because muscle stiffness leads to the formation of trigger points that elicit the pain during the compression from the foam roller. Activities like running, walking, standing, or sitting put stress on the gastrocnemius-soleus complex.

Foam rolling does help cramps. Leg cramps create muscle spams and a sudden restriction in the blood supply. Foam rolling helps by improving the circulation to the area and triggers the shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic activity that relaxed the muscle.

Here are the steps to use a foam roller for leg cramps:

Foam rolling for calf cramps
  • Lay down on the floor or the bed. Place the foam roller under your cramped calf.
  • Press down on the roller to create a compression. You can add more pressure by placing the opposite leg on top of the leg that you want to roll.
  • Slowly roll your calf side to side looking for a tender spot. Once you find the tender spot, stay there pressing on the foam roller until the spams release.

Reason #5: Helps with shin splints

Wearing inappropriate footwear, excessive exercise, or sudden change in the intensity of the workouts leads to tension in the calves. Using a foam roller for shins splints is a good first step and an effective way to reduce inflammation, muscle tension, and pain.

Do tight calves cause shin splints? Shin splints, also called medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) can be caused by tight calves. Tight calf muscle rubs against the tibia bone, causes irritation and pain. People who experience shin splints are usually runners, military personnel, and dancers.

How long should you foam roll shin splints? In general, you should foam roll shin splints for around 5-10 minutes or until you feel a reduction in pain. Foam rolling, together with myofascial release can help to reduce scar tissue build-up, improve the sliding surface and restore some of the restricted range of motion.

Here’s how to use a foam roller get rid of shin splints.

Foam rolling for shin splints
  • Start from going into a box position with both knees and hands on the floor.
  • Place the foam roller or massage ball on the floor under your shin.
  • Slowly apply the pressure and start to roll back and forth.
  • Cover the anterior surface of muscle.
  • Spend 2-5 minutes on each leg

Reason #6: Helps with knee pain

Calf mobilization is one of the first things I look at when addressing knee pain.

Can tight calves cause knee pain? Thigh calf muscles can cause knee pain because the gastrocnemius-soleus complex dictates the ankle range of motion and foot position. Limited ankle mobility forces changes in the gait biomechanics which can affect the knee alignment.

Here is the screenshot of one of my testimonials that I’ve received from my client, Ezzard, who struggled with knee pain for months.

Screenshot of my testimonial

Testimonial from Ezzard:

“Michal was great. He immediately spotted that I was in pain and ascertained the problem.

I had pain in both knees from self-induced sports injuries with the initial exercises I was pain-free for about 12 hours.

After the first full session, I was able to tour Seoul with very much less pain than previously.

In fact, I was surprised to find that this was the least suffering I had felt for more than a month.”

Ezzard Charles Glasco

What exercises Ezzard is talking about? Foam rolling and stretching calves was a big part of his rehab program.

Can foam rolling your calves help with knee pain? Foam rolling your calves does help with knee pain. Myofascial tension in the calves pulls on the joint and contributes to knee discomfort. Regular foam rolling helps to reduce calf tension and restore some of the sliding surfaces of the fascia.

Stretching is also part of the protocol.

Do calf stretches help knee pain? Apart from foam rolling, calf stretches and can help to release knee pain. In fact, one of the most effective ways to address knee pain is by mobilizing the ankle in the dorsiflexion position to release tension from the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle.

I won’t cover here all the foam rolling exercises you can use for knee pain. I’ve already written an article about it here “6 Principles Of Foam Rolling For Knee Pain“, which I suggest you read.

Reason #7: Helps with Achilles tendonitis

In general, foam rolling helps Achilles tendonitis by reducing pressure pain threshold (PPT) and improving ankle range of motion. Studies have shown that foam rolling and other soft tissue treatments give similar results to conservative eccentric exercises.

According to Dr. Stefan H. Stefansson from the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, both soft tissue treatment and eccentric exercises had similar outcomes after 12 weeks of treatment. However, a combination of those two treatments together didn’t show any better results (source).

Should you foam roll Achilles tendonitis? You should use a foam roller on Achilles tendonitis as a part of your daily pain management technique. A combination of foam rolling, eccentric stretching, changing the footwear and temporarily reducing physical activity enhance the treatment results.

Here’s how you use a foam roller for Achilles tendonitis:

Foam Rolling Calves For Improved Posture

Mobilizing and foam rolling your calves improves posture because it integrates and restores ankle range of motion, reduces muscle stiffness, and decreases biomechanical restrictions. It also helps with the exercise position and reduces the risk for injury.

Reason #8: Helps with ankle range of motion

Foam rolling calves can improve ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. Limited ankle dorsiflexion is associated with gait abnormalities and calf muscle tightness. Regular foam roller stretches help to restore the length-tension relationship in the ankle.

Other ways to work on your ankle mobility is stretching.

Wearing high heel shoes, sudden change in the intensity or duration of the exercise, or prolonged sitting leads to calves stiffness and poor dorsiflexion. Calf stretching is been shown to significantly help with ankle biomechanics and range of motion.

When you stretch your calves, your lower leg muscles lengthen to their optimal restores range of motion capacity. Decreased muscular tension releases the pressure from the joints. This leads to an overall improvement in flexibility and can prevent injuries.

Here you can see my client, Jackie, describing how she felt after the session of foam rolling and stretching.

My client Jackie testimonial after mobility sessions

Reason #9: Helps with running biomechanics

Does foam rolling your calves help with running? Foam rolling helps with running because it can be used as a tool to restore range of motion. People who run regularly can struggle with calf tension which can impact their gait. Regular foam rolling keeps the gastrocnemius-soleus complex supple and stable.

People who loves to run can probably agree.

Is it better to foam roll before or after a run? Foam rolling 3-5 minutes before the running can help to enhance mobility by improving the ankle dorsiflexion. Using a foam roller for 10-15 minutes after the run helps to speed up post-exercise recovery, enhance muscle perfusion, and reduce muscle soreness.

I like to use foam rollers before and after. Typically I spend more time to foam roll calves after I run because It kick starts the parasympathetic response and helps me relax.

Reason #10: Improves squats biomechanics

My ankle range of motion sucks. I had tight calves all my life. So when I squat I cannot go low because I don’t have the optimal dorsiflexion range of motion. I find that using a foam roller helps with that problem.

Regular foam rolling and self-myofascial release on your calves help to maintain a length-tension relationship with the gastrocnemius-soleus complex and ankle range of motion. This helps to maintain the integrity and the stability of the squat position.

In general, 2-5 minutes of foam rolling before squatting is a good way to restore squat biomechanics with a greater range of motion. 15-20 minutes of foam rolling after squatting can help to drain the lactate from the muscles, speed up recovery and reduce muscle soreness.

Foam Rolling Calves For Recovery

I think the most researched effects of foam rolling have been on the recovery.

Foam rolling helps to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, especially after an intense dose of exercise. Rolling your calves can help to decrease DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness), improve muscle perfusion, and enhance performance.

Reason #11: Helps to recover after Bootcamp

I think we all love the Saturday Bootcamp class. But how do you feel the day after?

After an intense workout load, foam rolling your calves promote post-exercise recovery and reduce muscular soreness. Implementing foam rolling and massage after the workout helps to combat muscle fatigue and bounce back to the training routine without having to skip the session.

Stretching your calves can also help.

Stretching calf muscle after an intense run or a workout session decreases calf muscle tightness and improves exercise compliance. By doing regular calf stretches you can recuperate faster and get yourself ready for the next session.

Reason #12: Helps to recover after sitting

Have you ever had a tight calf after sitting?

Calf muscles can get tight because of several factors like muscle weakness, inappropriate footwear, training intensity, previous injury, or posture asymmetry. Each of those factors influences body biomechanics and the position of how you redistribute the pressure.

Your calves feel tight after sitting because the prolonged sitting places the calf muscles into a fixed and mechanically inefficient position. Being stuck in that one position creates pattern adaptation where the body adapts into the shape that we spend most of the day.

Reason #13: Helps to recover after long-haul flights

Rolling out tight calves after traveling will help to reduce muscle tension. The pressure from the roller gets rid of the painful trigger points, improves the blood flow, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system that can dull the pain by secretion of oxytocin and endorphins.

In one of my Walk a Mile podcast episodes “Be Cool When Traveling” I’ve talked about strategies for recovery from the long haul flights, which I recommend you listen to.

Walk a Mile Podcast episode #8 from Dec 13 2019

Reason #14: Helps to recover after a marathon

I’ve done a couple of half marathons in my life. My calves always get stiff and sore after. That’s why I know foam roller can help.

Using a foam roller on your calves and thighs either before or after the long-distance running improves the recovery, optimizes your warm-up, and can reduce muscle stiffness. Regular foam rolling is also an opportunity to enhance the overall performance.

People who regularly use a foam roller, getting massages, or stretch their lower leg have a better range of motion and less muscle tension during running. This improves muscle perfusion and flexibility.

Reason #15: Helps to recover after injury

You can bounce back after muscle injury quite fast. But if the tendon is injured, the recovery time will be much longer.

Using a foam roller on your calves helps to speed up the recovery from injury by reducing the inflammation and enhance the blood flow into the tissues. It activates the parasympathetic response, increases plasma endorphin levels, and elicits a healing process.

How often should you foam roll your calves? You can foam roll your calves every day. People who spend a long time walking, standing, running, sitting are more prone to tension in the calves. Using foam roller daily helps to release the stiffness from the muscle, improve range of motion and mobility.

Foam Rolling Calves For Performance

To achieve better performance, there are several aspects you need to consider. It’s not just taking one pill or doing one magic stretch that will allow you to jump higher or run faster.

Together with sleep, nutrition, hydration, and stress, the ability of how well you recover from your last workout will impact your performance in your next session. Studies have shown that enhanced recovery from foam rolling extends acute workout time and volume, which can lead to chronic performance enhancements (source). 

A combination of dynamic stretching and foam roller should be a part of the active warm-up before a training session. It boosts performance in some types of sports and activities (e.g. sprinting) due to reduces muscle stiffness and increased range of motion.

You should foam roll your calves for 2-5 minutes per leg, or until you feel you’ve made muscle release. Studies have shown that 90 seconds per muscle group may be the minimum duration to achieve a short-term effect in the reduction of pain or soreness.

How can I roll my calves without a foam roller? You can foam roll your calves without a roller using some alternative massage tools. For the posterior calf muscles, you can use a PVC pipe, dough roller, or massage sticks. For the anterior calf muscles, you can use a lacrosse ball, massage ball, or peanut ball.

I won’t write here about the foam roller alternatives. I’ve already covered that in “9 Easy Ways To Roll Out Sore Muscles Without a Roller“, which I recommend you read.

Conclusion

You should foam roll your calves daily because it will help will a laundry list of things.

From pain management, range of motion, to recovery and performance.

People who have a high training load, previous injuries, muscle weakness, inappropriate footwear, or inefficient biomechanics challenge the gastrocnemius-soleus complex that can lead to muscle tension.

Apart from a foam roller, you can use many other tools like massage balls or calf rollers.

Calf rollers do work because they apply pressure on the muscle and help to desensitize painful areas. Calf roller can be used as a self-myofascial release technique to get rid of trigger points and improve the blood flow of the congested area.

Additional Resources

Here you can find all the related research that can guide you more in-depth and explain the science behind foam rolling.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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