This is the second part of our self-massage series following part one which covered the feet. The lower leg is comprised of the calf muscle, or gastrocnemius and soleus, the peroneals which lie to the outside, shin or tibialis anterior and extensor digitorum longus in the front, and the deep toe flexors and arch stabilizers in between the tibia and fibula. Hiking, running, lifting, and standing all require strong yet flexible lower leg tissue.
With overly stiff and supportive footwear that limits ankle range of motion expect your lower leg to need regular self-massage. Wildland firefighting boots come with a higher heel lift for steep downhill terrain, which can lead to short/tight calf muscles and Achilles tendon. This can lead to a higher risk of injury and faulty mechanics, especially AFTER you take the boots off and use normal shoes with a lower heel. I vividly remember being extremely sore in the calves following a two week assignment of only wearing boots then going for a training run in regular shoes. There were horror stories of guys who would suffer an Achilles tendon rupture due to this compensation pattern. The takeaway– spending 10-15 minutes at the end your day can help restore the proper length-tension relationships in your lower leg so you can avoid these injuries.
Here are 5 self-massage strategies for the lower leg:
1. Calf Knead & Pull: Using the heel of both palms squeeze your calf muscle and work up and down your lower leg. Try creating space between your muscle and bones by squeezing and lifting away toward the ground or moving in circular motions.
2. Shin Press & Knead: Make a loose fist and use your first two finger joints to massage up and down your shin muscle pausing on tension-bound areas. A back and forth or side to side motion tends to be most effective here for digging deeper into tissue.
3. Medial Shin Stroke: Using your fingers move down your inner shin bone where there is denser tissue. Pause on the tight and knotted regions and move your foot up and down to create length in the tissue.
4. Acupressure Points Stomach 36 & Bladder 57: For Stomach Point 36 measure 3 cun below the middle of your knee and 1 cun to the outside of your shin bone (tibia). Cun is the Chinese medicine way of measuring on YOUR body proportionate to your unique size and shape. 1 cun is the equivalent of the width of your thumb. 3 cun is the same as your four fingers lined up. Press in and hold, or move in circles with direct pressure to gain depth through the tissue. This point is one of the most powerful and effective of all the acupressure points. It treats knee pain, strengthens the immune system, and assists in digesting food. Don’t worry about finding the exact point. If you’re close there will still be energetic benefits and tissue release. For Bladder 57, feel in the middle of your calf muscle where both sides meet toward the bottom. Feel for tender tissue that may present as a divot or impression like your finger can rest inside of a gentle crater. Press and hold or knead in circles. You can also try moving your foot around in circles while pressing in. This point is good for treating acute pain in the calf.
5. Downward Facing Dog: The yoga posture downward facing dog is one of the best positions to stretch the tissue in the back of your lower leg and open behind the knee and hamstring. Place hands shoulder width apart and lift your hips to the sky. Drive both heels to the ground without rounding your lower back. Try alternating the stretch peddling one heel down at a time. Hold and breathe until there is a significant release.
I hope you enjoy these strategies for self-massaging your lower leg. They have stood the test of high miles and long days providing relief and recovery with minimal effort and no tools. Try them out and see how you respond. Take what works for you make it your own.
Next, I’ll break down my favorite ways to self-massage the thighs…hello quads and IT bands!