Gastroc/Soleus Complex

A lot of my posts recently have been really orthopedic because of my job.  I’m seeing all these words that I didn’t use for 3 years and it’s triggering ideas for blog posts.

Your calf muscle.  Your calf muscle is actually 2 muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus.  The gastrocnemius is the muscle that everyone thinks of when they say ‘calf muscle’ and is the muscle that’s really defined when someone says ‘look at her calves.’

Underneath the gastroc lay the other calf muscle, the soleus.  Ok, here’s the difference in those muscles.  The gastrocnemius crosses two joints, both the knee and the ankle.  The gastroc when contracted both points the toe and bends the knee.  The soleus on the other hand only crosses and affects the ankle joint, so its only action is to point the toe.  Because of that, when you stretch these muscles, you have to bend the knee in order to stretch out the soleus to take the gastroc out of the equation.

These muscles are very important in your gait cycle and are responsible for ‘toe-off’ which means that when one leg is about to lift off of the ground at the end of the stance phase of the gait cycle, your gastroc/soleus complex is engaged and as a result of these muscles causing your toe to point – since your foot is stabilized on the ground the only way that your toe can be pointed is if your body is lifted.

So, you have toe-off because after that you’ll swing that leg forward.  If you think you need to stretch out your calf, stretch both muscles.  Here are what the stretches look like:

Gastroc stretch

Soleus stretch

gc run

Categories: Health, Recovery, Rehab

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. I know I’m not getting any toe off. Would trying to stand up on tiptoes help?

    • Yep. That would help. Doing a bunch of heel raises strengthens those muscles. First you can do it seated if you can’t do it standing to get the muscle going. But doing it seated only strengthens the soleus and not the gastroc.

      • Amy, I can do heel raises standing, but it’s very hard to do sitting (v-e-r-y slowly)….am I even weirder than the usual after-stroke-weird? Also, I can raise my heels (couldn’t for a long time after stroke, lost balance immediately), but still can’t walk on my toes (part of every neuro examination). I guess I’ll never dance swan lake now. Darn!

        • Yeah same with me actually. I can do it, but I lose my balance immediately. That’s interesting that it’s harder to do sitting. Do you have bad ataxia? I sure did. Sometimes putting a weight on the extremity helps to calm down the ataxia so standing would put a lot of weight on the leg that isn’t on it when sitting. They always put a weight on my right wrist right after the stroke and my tremors and ataxia were so bad that weights didn’t do a damn thing but I didn’t have the heart to tell anyone. I doubt they would have have listened to me anyway. :/

          • Ataxia has gotten better (stroke was 7/24/12), but is still pretty bad, walking especially and my left arm whenever I feel stressed. When I feel watched or stared at, my lower arm starts to raise. Interesting what you said about the weight. When my lower arm starts to raise, I like to grab a dumbbell or any other heavy object, feels so good, as my arm relaxes almost immediately.

  2. Was shocked by the new look but it reads great.
    I found pulling the foot towards the chair while seated engages the Achilles and when I pull it in as far as it will go then push weight through it, I get the same stretch as when standing. It irks me that I can’t stand on tip toes yet.

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