Soleus muscle pain is common and can be a real nuisance due to that fact that the muscle’s main function is to stabilize the ankle joint and help push the foot off the ground.
The soleus muscle is one of three muscles located in the calf. It’s located at the back of the leg, beginning below the knee and ending at the heel. The soleus muscle is what helps form the Achilles tendon. Aside from being an important muscle for walking and running, the soleus helps circulate blood by returning it to the heart.
Soleus muscle strain or injury can make it very difficult to perform daily tasks and recreational activities. Someone who suffers from soleus muscle pain will likely have trouble going up and down the stairs, running, dancing, or walking briskly. This type of calf muscle pain can also lead to a sense of imbalance.
What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Soleus Muscle Pain?
Soleus muscle pain symptoms can involve the heel, ankle, knee, calf, and even the back. There are times when the pain can be extreme. For instance, many people with soleus pain report experiencing discomfort in the heel to the point where they are not able to put weight on the affected foot. A list of common soleus pain symptoms is listed below.
- Pain in the calf that radiates to the back of the knee
- Severe pain in the ankle that makes it hard to bear weight
- Severe knee pain
- Low back pain
- Sensitivity in the lower back area
- Circulation problems in the affected foot
Soleus pain causes are often linked to certain activities, but there is one cause that you could say is due to inactivity. Check out the list of soleus muscle pain causes below to see what we mean.
- Walking on inclines, such as hills
- Frequent stair climbing
- Frequent cycling
- Playing tennis
- Participating in long jump
- Wearing high heels
- Using a recliner a lot
- Improper alignment when standing
- Age-related inactivity
It may sound like it is easy to strain the soleus, but it actually takes a lot of stress to injure this muscle. The reason the problem is so common is that running uphill forces the knee to bend more than usual, putting stress on the soleus muscle. Additionally, as we age, we tend to be less active. When an older person goes from being sedentary to suddenly navigating a hill or stairs, it can strain what has become a very weak muscle.
Some people are more likely to have soleus muscle strain than others. Risk factors include having peripheral vascular disease, thrombophlebitis, deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, nocturnal cramping or posterior compartment syndrome, which is also referred to as posterior shin splints. It is also not unusual for those who experience frequent knee dislocation, heel spurs, baker’s cyst, Achilles tendon rupture, plantar fasciitis, or sciatica to get soleus muscle pain.
How to Know If You Have a Strained Soleus Muscle
It’s true that some of the symptoms we described could be associated with other muscle injuries or health conditions. So, how do you actually know if you’ve strained your soleus muscle? Well, there are a few simple tests you can perform to diagnose your muscle strain.
Bent Knee Heel Raises: Stand barefoot with your feet parallel and about shoulder-width apart. Bend the knees as far as possible while keeping the heels on the floor and keeping the back erect. The next step is to rise up onto the balls of the feet several times while keeping the knees bent. If you feel discomfort or pain, it could be a soleus muscle strain.
Single Leg Bent Knee Heel Raises: This is a variation of the first test. Stand on the injured leg, holding something to help you with your balance. Rise onto the ball of the foot while keeping the knee bent to see if there is any discomfort.
Alignment Test: Stand naturally and take a look at the alignment of the feet. Well-aligned feet are parallel or rotated outward no more than about 5 degrees. Pronated feet rotate about 10–20 degrees. Also, when someone bends their knees, they will go straight forward, while the feet point outward.
How Is a Strained Soleus Muscle Treated?
Soleus muscle pain treatment is usually pretty conservative. In fact, some of the approaches can be handled at home.
Here’s an outline of soleus muscle treatment options:
- Rest: Not bearing weight on the injured foot for a week or so can allow the muscle to begin to heal. It will also allow any swelling to come down.
- Elevation: Using pillows to keep the soleus elevated above the heart for as long as possible for the first day can be effective in reducing any swelling.
- Heat and Ice: Applying ice packs to the injured area for 15–20 minutes a few times each day can help. Using a warm compress to lower swelling and inflammation is also an option for soleus pain treatment.
- NSAID: Some people are prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the pain and inflammation.
- Wraps: These are used to compress the affected area, helping with swelling and pain relief.
- Active Release Technique (ART): This is a hands-on technique to treat muscle, ligament, fascia, tendon, nerve, or capsule pain. In the case of soleus pain, the muscle is held with tension applied to the tissue. It is different from massage in that there is no skin tension or sliding on the skin with the hand. The practitioner uses his or her hands to feel abnormal or damaged tissue. While tension is being applied, the patient will be asked to move the injury from a shortened to a lengthened position.
If pain is unbearable or doesn’t seem to go away after about three days, see a doctor. Your doctor may recommend the use of mobility aids, such as crutches for a short time.
Soleus Stretches and Exercises
There are a number of exercises for the soleus muscle. Some of them require equipment, such as machinery found in a gym, while other exercises can be performed with props that are accessible in most homes.
The following are considered effective soleus muscle exercises:
Seated Calf Extension
Using either a calf extension machine or a combination calf extension/leg press machine, move the seat close to the foot pedals so your knees are bent to 90 degrees or as close to that as possible. Place your feet on the pedals and grasp the handles below the seat. With your feet connected to the pedals, press your toes away from your shins, extending your ankles. Release and bring your toes toward your shin to stretch your calves.
Seated Soleus Stretch
This is one of several soleus stretches. You sit on the floor with both legs extended out straight, then draw one heel in toward your body. Relax the knee out to the side so the sole of your foot is tucked toward your opposite thigh. You can then bend your other knee and draw your heel in toward your glute with your toes raised in the air. Now, grasp the ball of your foot and gently pull your toes in toward your shin and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
This is considered one of the easiest stretches of the soleus muscle. You stand several feet away from the wall and place both hands against it. Put one foot about a foot away from the wall while the other foot is back three or four feet. Push both feet flat to the floor and push your back knee toward the ground. Hold for 10–15 seconds, relax, and switch the position of your feet so you can stretch out the other leg.
Lie on your back with one leg extended while the other knee is bent with the foot flat on the floor. Place a towel under the toes of the bent leg and pull up so your leg is straight in the air. Pull on the towel to pull your toes toward your body as you use your soleus muscle to push your heel toward the ceiling. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and return your leg to the floor. Repeat this soleus stretch on the other leg.
Stair Soleus Stretch
To do this exercise, you stand with the balls of both feet on the stairs. Bend your right knee and let the left heel drop below the stair. To stretch the soleus, bend your left knee. Hold the stretch for a few seconds and switch legs.
Sit on the edge of a chair with your left foot on the floor. You can then straighten your right leg out, putting your heel on the floor. Pull your toes up toward your head until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Bend your knee slightly and you will be targeting the soleus. Lean forward at your hips if you want to increase the stretch. Hold for 20–30 seconds and repeat three times before switching legs.
Knee to Chest Soleus Stretch
Sit on a hard surface with your legs in front of you. Bend your right knee and bring it close to your chest. While keeping your heel on the floor, lift your toes up toward your head. Grab the ball of your foot with both hands. Gently pull until you feel a stretch along the back of your calf. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat three times on each leg
Seated Calf Raise
Sit in a chair and place a book under the balls of your feet. Lift your heels as high as you can and then lower them so they land below the level of the book. Try to do 25 repetitions.
Whether you are doing soleus stretches or other forms of soleus exercise, you should be careful not to overdo it. If you feel pain, stop. Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to soleus stretching:
- Warm up your muscles before any stretching
- Stretch slowly
- Breath normally to improve blood circulation to the muscles
- Move into deeper stretches gradually as you build strength
- Hold a stretch for a minimum 30 seconds if you can
- Overstretch the muscle to the point where you feel pain
- Bounce in any of the poses
- Stretch cold muscles since it can do more harm
Soleus muscle strain recovery can take time, and it can mean that you have to give up some of your regular activities temporarily, including sports. However, the sooner you address the problem with proper treatment, including soleus exercises, the sooner you will be able to get back to regular life.
If you are experiencing severe pain in your calf, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Getting diagnosed and receiving recovery instructions that suit your individual situation can help you avoid recurring soleus pain.