• Cheam, Worcester Park and Selsdon, Surrey

Calf Pain in Skiers and Boarders

Do you get aches or pain in your calf muscles after a ski or snowboarding session?

If you do you may not be alone, especially in the first few days of your break if you have not participated in any pre-holiday preparation exercises.

Skiing and snowboarding have different physical demands on your body but they can both cause problems in your lower legs. This article focuses on aches and pains from the overuse of the muscles and DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) rather than any injury or tear in the muscle.

The Muscles

There are actually two muscles in your lower leg which you probably know as the ‘calf muscle’. The larger of the two which is closest to the skin is the gastrocnemius and the inner and smaller one nearer the bone is the soleus.

When you have done a calf stretch at the end of an exercise session you have most probably always stretched the gastrocnemius rather than the soleus.

The soleus is actually a very important muscle to stretch and look after for skiers and snowboarders as when the knee is bent its main role is to stabilise the body.

The role of both muscles is to allow the foot to point downwards towards the ground (plantar flexion) and also they allow pressure to be put through the ball of the foot in order to generate power for walking or jumping etc. To be able to change direction, control the speed and direction when skiing or snowboarding you will use varying pressures through the foot which results in the calf muscles changing from a contracting to stretching state which can leave them tense.

You can be at a greater risk of straining these calf muscles if you have; poor flexibility in both muscles, do not allow enough time for your muscles to recover post-skiing / snowboarding, have weak muscles, have had previous injuries that did not have the correct rehabilitation, lack of balance, lack of adequate warm up and cool down when exercising, stiff ankle joints and poor boot/foot position set up.

The Ankle

It is important for skiers to have a good range of movement and flexibility around the ankle joint to enable them to maintain the correct ankle flex position when in a rigid ski boot. If the skier does not then it can cause excess pressure on the calf muscles which can lead to pain, muscle strains and injury – plus it may affect your ski performance. It is vital that the ski boot has been correctly fitted and fastened by a professional.

What is calf strain?

A calf strain is when the calf area becomes painful and stiff and therefore uncomfortable. It may be worse first thing in the morning and get less painful as the day goes on, if you have been sat for a while and then get up and you are unable to walk properly, they may cramp or you may experience a pain or pulling sensation in the calf area or ankle when climbing stairs.

This is mainly caused when you start a new or make changes to your exercise regime and the muscles were not as prepared for the new exercises, the muscles were not stretched appropriately, if at all, after being used, or you have worn heavier shoes or ski boots that you would not have normally worn.

This discomfort and pain is described as DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness. Your body is very good at recovering from this and repairing any damage to the muscles that may have occurred but it is important that you allow your body to take the time to recover. This is why you should prepare your muscles before you go on your ski/snowboarding holiday rather than just turn up and go on the slopes.

Stretches to improve ankle flexibility

Stretching your calf muscles is the way to increase the flexibility around the ankle. If you do the stretches below daily for at least a month before going skiing/snowboarding then you are less likely to experience any pain whilst away.

Ensure your muscles are warm before performing the stretches i.e. do not do them immediately getting out of bed in the morning but after walking around your home for a while will be fine.

Get yourself into position and you need to feel a ‘pull’ on the muscle. If it is very painful then release the stretch a little but still ensure you can still feel the ‘pull’, and if you cannot feel the stretch then you may need to take a bigger stride (figure 1), bend your knees more (figure 2) or angle the toes higher up the wall (figure 3).

Hold each stretch for 30 seconds on each leg and repeat twice.

Ensure you do not hold your breath, focus your mind on the muscles you are stretching and try to relax them each time you breathe out, and if they release and ease off then move further into the stretch until you feel the ‘pull’ again.

How can I strengthen my calf muscles?

Calf raises are the best way to focus on strengthening the muscles. Figure 4 shows a basic calf raise where you slowly go up onto the balls of your feet as high as you can and then control the descent down to the floor. Repeat 10 times twice a day, aiming to increase this to 20 times twice a day.

You can increase the range of movement by standing on the edge of the bottom stair or a small step and lower your heels below the edge of the step and rise up fully onto the balls of your foot.

To specifically target the soleus muscle repeat the movement above but with your knees slightly bent. You may want to hold on to something for balance and this may take longer to master.

For any questions or further advice then contact us on 020 8395 1177.

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