Gastrocnemius translates to “stomach of leg”. It’s that bulge in your calf located in the back part of your lower leg. It runs from just above your knee to your heel crossing two joints (knee and ankle), ending in the calcaneal tendon (Achilles Tendon).
The technical function of the “gastroc”, along with it’s partner calf muscle the soleus, is plantar flexion–movement of the foot that flexes foot or toes downward the sole) and flexing the leg at the knee joint.
Because we use the gastroc muscle every time we walk, run, stand or jump, it’s working all the time. It’s also prone to tears, strains and inflammation. And, of course, muscle spasms commonly known as “cramps”.
Many factors can cause a cramp. Dehydration, overuse, poor conditioning, muscle fatigue, low levels of potassium, sodium and carbs to name a few.
You may also develop knots in your calf muscles that manifest as night cramps that might be activated by climbing up steps, steep slopes, running uphill or riding a bicycle with the seat is adjusted too low. You might experience pain while walking in the soft sand of a beach or on a slanted surface. Add cold air temperature and the development of these trigger points in the gastrocnemius are even more common.
“Your calf muscles (gastrocs) are key to propulsion. Everyone can benefit from strong,healthy calf muscles.” Journal of BioMechanics (2012)
Massage therapy for cramps or other aches in your gastrocs involve locating and working specifically on trigger points and using compression and active and passive stretches to reduce pain and relax muscle spasms.