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Gastrocnemius and Soleus Muscles: An MSR Approach to Strength and Stability

Updated: Apr 1


Manual Therapy on the Calf Muscles

The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are pivotal components in the intricate machinery of the lower leg, essential for propulsion and stability. As prime movers in plantarflexion, they play a vital role not just for athletes striving for peak performance, but also for individuals in their daily activities such as walking, running, and maintaining balance.


In this article, we will explore the nuanced relationship between the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, employing an evidence-based approach, including techniques from Motion Specific Release (MSR). We will examine their essential functions within the lower limb kinetic chain and their influence on both localized and systemic musculoskeletal health.


Article Index:

 


Gastrocnemius & Soleus Anatomy Image

Anatomy & Biomechanics of the Gastrocnemius and Soleus


The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles form a complex muscular unit known as the triceps surae, which is paramount for foot propulsion and the stabilization of the ankle joint. This muscular ensemble is instrumental in activities ranging from standing tiptoe to facilitate running and jumping, showcasing a remarkable combination of strength and flexibility.


Gastrocnemius Muscle


The Gastrocnemius, often recognized for its prominent bulge in the calf, is a powerful plantarflexor of the ankle. Its biarticular structure allows it to act on both the ankle and knee joints, contributing to plantarflexion and flexion of the knee, respectively. The muscle's fast-twitch fibers are tuned for quick, explosive movements such as jumping or sprinting.


Origin and Insertion:

  • It originates from two heads, each arising from the medial and lateral condyles of the femur, and inserts into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon.

Innervation:

  • It is innervated by the tibial nerve, with nerve roots primarily from S1 and S2.

Biomechanical Role:

  • Aside from its role in plantarflexion, it aids in knee flexion and provides a quick response during activities requiring sudden changes in direction or pace.


Soleus Muscle


The Soleus, situated deep to the gastrocnemius, is a powerful single-joint muscle that plays a significant role in standing and walking. Unlike the gastrocnemius, it contains a higher proportion of slow-twitch fibers, making it crucial for endurance activities and maintaining posture.


Origin and Insertion:

  • The muscle has a broad origin from the upper portions of the tibia and fibula and shares the Achilles tendon with the gastrocnemius for its insertion on the calcaneus.

Innervation:

  • It receives innervation from the tibial nerve, with contributions from the L4-S1 nerve roots.

Biomechanical Role:

  • The soleus is fundamental in maintaining postural stability and is constantly active during weight-bearing activities to control plantarflexion of the foot.


Together, these muscles work synergistically to produce movements critical for human locomotion. Their unique anatomical features and biomechanical roles underscore their importance in both movement and stability of the ankle and knee joints.


 

Gastrocnemius and Soleus Release - MSR Procedures


These MSR procedures for the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are outlined in the accompanying video for precise application.


Initial Setup:

  • Patient Position: The patient lies prone with their feet extending off the edge of the treatment table.

  • Practitioner Stance: The practitioner kneels in a comfortable position by the patient’s feet.

Basic Technique:

  • Treatment Hand: Utilizes the heel of the hand or the forearm to apply a compressive force to the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.

  • Support Hand: Stabilizes the patient’s leg and aids in manipulating the foot to achieve the desired muscle stretch.

  • Synchronization: Both hands work in unison to apply pressure and motion.

  • Pressure: Moderate pressure is initiated to engage the muscles without causing discomfort.

  • Focus Area: Upon locating a restriction, the practitioner maintains the position and pressure until a release in the tissue is achieved.

Advanced Maneuver:

  • Locate a restricted area within the gastrocnemius or soleus.

  • Combine dorsiflexion of the ankle with knee flexion, and introduce gentle circumduction at the ankle under moderate compression.

  • Ankle Circumduction: It's important to adjust pressure during circumduction to avoid discomfort while inducing a myofascial release.

Fiber Composition & Orientation:

  • The gastrocnemius muscle is composed primarily of fast-twitch fibers, which are optimal for quick, powerful movements such as jumping or sprinting. In contrast, the soleus muscle is rich in slow-twitch fibers, lending itself to sustained activities and postural control.

  • The gastrocnemius fibers run in a more vertical direction, whereas the soleus fibers have a more angled orientation. This anatomical detail helps inform the directionality of manual techniques, ensuring that the practitioner's movements are congruent with the natural alignment of the muscle fibers to promote an effective release.


MSR Demonstration Video

The video features Dr. Abelson showcasing MSR procedures tailored for the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles.





Best Practices

  • Time Factor: Allocate sufficient time for each MSR session to ensure the gradual release of myofascial restrictions.

  • Circumduction Benefits: Circumduction during manual therapy provides a multi-directional stimulus that can modulate pain signals and promote relaxation across muscle groups, enhancing overall neuromuscular coordination. This technique also helps to resolve fascial restrictions by applying shear stress to collagen fibers, thereby improving tissue mobility and contributing to systemic therapeutic effects.

  • Kinetic Chains: Consider the gastrocnemius and soleus roles within the lower limb kinetic chain and their influence on proximal and distal structures.


Precautions

  • Be mindful of the individual’s health history, current health status, and any contraindications for manual therapy.

  • Avoid direct pressure on areas of acute inflammation, recent injury, or post-operative sites without medical approval.

  • Ensure informed consent and use techniques appropriate to the patient's condition to mitigate the risk of adverse effects.


 


Functional Kinetic Chain Image

Gastrocnemius and Soleus Functional Kinetic Chains


The concept of kinetic chains is a cornerstone of musculoskeletal (MSK) health, providing a comprehensive perspective for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, such as Motion Specific Release (MSR). This approach considers:


Direct Myofascial Connections

These connections form a network through which muscles transmit force. Any disruption can lead to a domino effect, impairing movement and stability throughout the chain.

  • Achilles Tendon: Integrally linked with the gastrocnemius and soleus, crucial for transmitting forces during plantarflexion.

  • Plantar Fascia: Connects with the Achilles tendon, affecting foot arch mechanics and force distribution during gait.

  • Popliteus Tendon: Interacts with the calf muscles, playing a role in knee flexion and stabilization.

Synergists

Muscles that synergistically work with the gastrocnemius and soleus include:

  • Hamstrings: Assist with knee flexion, complementing the gastrocnemius.

  • Tibialis Posterior: Supports plantarflexion and inward rotation of the foot, enhancing the action of the soleus.

Stabilizers

Provide structural support, ensuring efficient movement mechanics and joint integrity.

  • Anterior Tibialis: Balances the plantarflexion force, stabilizing the ankle during walking or running.

  • Gluteus Maximus: Supports the leg and hip during activities that engage the gastrocnemius and soleus.

Antagonists

These muscles oppose the action of the gastrocnemius and soleus, facilitating controlled movement and balance.

  • Quadriceps: Counter the gastrocnemius in knee flexion, particularly during the eccentric phase of locomotion.

  • Dorsiflexors: Act against plantarflexors, essential for activities like decelerating during running or landing from a jump.


This framework, encompassing direct connections and the interplay of synergists, stabilizers, and antagonists, outlines the intricate role of the gastrocnemius and soleus within the lower limb kinetic chain. This knowledge is invaluable for devising specific treatments and rehabilitation strategies that address the interconnected nature of musculoskeletal function.


 

Exercises


Flexibility/Mobility Exercises

Stretching the Calf Muscles

This video provides stretches for both your calf muscles the gastrocnemius and soleus. Only minor changes in technique can make a huge difference in increasing your calf flexibility.




Myofascial Release

Calf Muscle Release - Lacrosse Ball & Foam Roller

The gastrocnemius with the soleus, your calf muscles are the main plantar flexors of the ankle joint. In addition, the calf muscles are also powerful flexors of the knee joint.




Strengthening Exercises


Eccentric Calf Raises

The Eccentric Calf Raise is an effective method for enhancing calf strength while minimizing the risk of further injuries. Dynamic calf pulsations serve as an optimal exercise for augmenting sports performance and power. This is an advanced exercise; thus, ensure that you can effortlessly execute standard Eccentric Calf Raises & Pulsations before attempting this variation.


Balance/Proprioception

Improve Your Balance

Exercises for Beginners: Balancing exercises are crucial components in both Rehabilitation and Sports Performance training. These exercises should not be overlooked, as they can bolster one's capacity to stabilize the body during functional movements. By incorporating straightforward balance exercises into a progressive training program, you can enhance balance and avert injuries.


Precautions:

Exercises involving the calves, especially plyometrics, should be approached with caution to avoid overstraining these muscles. Individuals with prior calf injuries or those who are inexperienced with plyometric exercises should consult a healthcare provider before beginning such routines. Proper warm-up and progression are essential to prevent injury and facilitate muscle adaptation.


 

Conclusion


In summary, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are central to lower leg mechanics, influencing movement and stability. This article's examination of their anatomy, Motion Specific Release procedures, and roles in kinetic chains underscores their importance in musculoskeletal health and rehabilitation. The exercises provided target flexibility, strength, and proprioception, vital for clinical and athletic performance.


Effective management of these muscles necessitates an integrated approach, considering both their specific functions and their role in the body's kinetic network. Understanding the biomechanical details of these muscles and applying targeted MSR techniques can lead to enhanced outcomes in both preventative and rehabilitative care.


 

DR. BRIAN ABELSON DC. - The Author


Image of Dr. Brian Abelson

Dr. Abelson's approach in musculoskeletal health care reflects a deep commitment to evidence-based practices and continuous learning. In his work at Kinetic Health in Calgary, Alberta, he focuses on integrating the latest research with a compassionate understanding of each patient's unique needs. As the developer of the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems, he views his role as both a practitioner and an educator, dedicated to sharing knowledge and techniques that can benefit the wider healthcare community. His ongoing efforts in teaching and practice aim to contribute positively to the field of musculoskeletal health, with a constant emphasis on patient-centered care and the collective advancement of treatment methods.


 


MSR Instructor Mike Burton Smiling

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Enroll in our courses to master innovative soft-tissue and osseous techniques that seamlessly fit into your current clinical practice, providing your patients with substantial relief from pain and a renewed sense of functionality. Our curriculum masterfully integrates rigorous medical science with creative therapeutic paradigms, comprehensively understanding musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment protocols.


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Integrating MSR into your practice can significantly enhance your clinical practice. The benefits we mentioned are only a few reasons for joining our MSR team.


 

References

  1. Abelson, B., Abelson, K., & Mylonas, E. (2018, February). A Practitioner's Guide to Motion Specific Release, Functional, Successful, Easy to Implement Techniques for Musculoskeletal Injuries (1st edition). Rowan Tree Books.

  2. Clark, M. A., Lucett, S. C., & Sutton, B. G., Eds. (2013). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. 4th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

  3. Janda, V. (1983). "Muscles and Cervicogenic Pain Syndromes." In: Grant, R. (ed.), Physical Therapy of the Cervical and Thoracic Spine. Churchill Livingstone.

  4. Järvinen, T. A. H., Järvinen, T. L. N., Kääriäinen, M., Kalimo, H., & Järvinen, M. (2007). "Muscle Injuries: Biology and Treatment." The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 33(5), 745–764.

  5. Kisner, C., & Colby, L. A. (2012). Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques. 6th ed. F.A. Davis Company.

  6. Liebenson, C. (2007). Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner's Manual. 2nd ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

  7. Magee, D. J. (2013). Orthopedic Physical Assessment. 6th ed. Saunders.

  8. Myers, T. W. (2001). Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists. Churchill Livingstone.

  9. Neumann, D. A. (2010). Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Mosby.

  10. O’Sullivan, S. B., & Schmitz, T. J. (2013). Physical Rehabilitation. 6th ed. F.A. Davis Company.

  11. Page, P., Frank, C. C., & Lardner, R. (2010). Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance: The Janda Approach. Human Kinetics.

  12. Riemann, B. L., & Lephart, S. M. (2002). "The Sensorimotor System, Part I: The Physiologic Basis of Functional Joint Stability." Journal of Athletic Training, 37(1), 71–79.

  13. Schleip, R., & Müller, D. G. (2013). "Training Principles for Fascial Connective Tissues: Scientific Foundation and Suggested Practical Applications." Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 17(1), 103–115.

  14. Standring, S. (2016). Gray's Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice. 41st ed. Elsevier Health Sciences.

  15. Travell, J. G., & Simons, D. G. (1999). Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Vol. 1. Upper Half of Body. 2nd ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.


 
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