Injury Analysis: Soleus

The Soleus muscle. Heard of it before? Not too many people know much about it. It’s a lower leg muscle deep to the more common lower leg muscle, the Gastrocnemius. The soleus is a powerful ankle plantarflexor and important in endurance sport athletes and explosive sport athletes.

It can be related to Achilles tendinopathy. Granted I don’t believe there’s ever a single cause for injury and believe it’s usually due to a variety of factors, where some factors play a more distinct role in injury than others. So if we’re talking about achilles pain, lower leg pain, and to a lesser extent foot pain, the Soleus is a muscle you should consider.

The first thing we need to do is determine the difference between the soleus and gastrocnemius. When you’re dealing with lower leg stiffness and pain, need to help guide us to decide which muscle we’re looking at. When your leg is bent, your gastrocnemius is in a “shortened” and “relaxed” state so that we can place tension on the soleus. When your leg is straight you create tension through the gastrocnemius.

So when I’m looking at lower leg injuries varying from acute to chronic, I like to take a 3-step approach to it, in the following categories:

Manual Component:

When doing manual yourself, to get to the soleus, make sure you knee is bent. It helps relax the gastrocnemius allowing you to get to the soleus.

Remember, not only do you roll “up and down” but also roll your lower leg side to side. Finally, when you find a sensitive or “sticky” point, stay on that area and pump your ankle.

Mobility Component:

Knee bent oscillations: I like moving in and out of a stretch compared to holding it, especially prior to performing activity. You want to start out in a half kneeling position with the ankle-knee-hip in a 90-90-90 position. What you want to do is gently rock forward, be careful not to extend your back because you won’t get the stretch!


Strength Component: Once we get mobility back into the joints, by working the muscles, we have to strengthen it and make you stronger. Two more non-traditional exercises I like using are single leg sliders and loading exercises. That’s not to say you can do calf raises and toe walks!
Single Leg Loads: This is a hybrid mobility and strengthening exercise. The big focus here, is making sure your movement is through the ankle and knee and not the hip and knee. We want to load the soleus, which is why are load leg has a slight bend in it. Remember to not only work the sagittal plane (forward and backward) but to work the frontal plane (side to side).

    Knee bent heel raises and lowers: This exercise really focuses on the loading of the soleus and gastrocnemius. You’ll do a calf raise and then lower your body into a deep squat maintaining that calf raise. Once you get strong in the two-legged phase try transitioning into the one-legged phase.

Don’t ignore the Soleus! Next week, we’ll work on another common injury in runners!

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