Best lower leg pain exercises & stretches

Best lower leg pain exercises & stretches

Posted 1 Apr '22

The lower leg lies between your knee and ankle and bears the weight of your entire body. It's a complex part of the body that's made up of two bones, the tibia and the fibula as well as many muscles, joints and ligaments. So, it goes without saying, that there is potential for many different parts to get damaged or injured.

However, calf injuries are one of the most common causes of lower leg pain. The calf consists of two main muscles — the gastrocnemius and the soleus. And, when these muscles are injured, debilitating pain can be felt. An injury of this area usually comes in the form of a strain or muscle tear.

Strains are similar to muscle tears and can be defined as an injury to the calf muscle or tendon. They usually involve a stretched or torn muscle or tendon. Whereas, a muscle tear isn't a stretch muscle, and is only defined as when the muscle itself has a tear in it.

A torn calf muscle is usually a painful injury that's felt behind the shin bone. This type of ailment is common in athletes as it's often caused by an overstretched calf. This can happen through quick movements like pivots, jumps and/or abrupt stops. Stretched calf muscles or tendons happen similarly, but should typically repair quicker than a muscle tear. Regardless of whether it's the muscle or tendon that's injured, a tear is almost always more serious than a stretch.

The recovery time of a calf muscle or tendon strain or tear will depend on how serious the injury is. Some people can be back on their feet a week after a strain. However, some severe tears may require surgery and months off the affected leg.

Depending on the severity of your injury, a physician can suggest a variety of treatments for it. In the recovery period, there should be no weight bearing on the injured leg. However, once the muscle or tendon has been repaired, you may be recommended to undertake some rehabilitation calf stretches and exercises.

Common symptoms of a pulled or strained calf

People with a pulled or strained calf muscle or tendon may experience some, or all, of the following symptoms:

Strengthening exercises for lower leg pain

Bulgarian split squats

  1. Stand about two to three feet in front of a chair or bench, with your back facing towards it.
  2. Pick up your right foot and place it on the chair or bench behind you and have your left leg slightly bent.
  3. Place your weight on your left leg (your right leg is just for balance) and slowly lower yourself down. Don't let your left knee go further than the line of your left foot.
  4. Lower down until your left quad is parallel to the ground.
  5. Return to the position in step 2.
  6. Repeat this squat a total of ten times, and then switch to the other leg for ten split squats.
  7. Rest between each set, and carry out a total of three sets.


  1. Use a skipping rope and jump rope for thirty seconds with small jumps so that the calf muscles are targeted.
  2. Take breaks between sets and complete a total of three sets of thirty seconds.

Calf raises

  1. Find a surface, like a step, where you can lower the heels of your feet below the line of your toes. And have something nearby that you can hold with your hands for balance.
  2. Stand on the step with your feet shoulder-width apart and ensure the balls of your feet are on a flat surface, and your heels and hanging over the edge.
  3. Slowly lower your heels below the level of your toes, and hold onto something, like a chair, for balance if you need to.
  4. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds, and then slowly raise yourself back, so you're feet are in line with your toes again.
  5. Repeat this exercise ten times to complete one set.
  6. Rest between each set, and carry out a total of three sets.

Stretching exercises for lower leg pain

Downward Dog

  1. Start on all fours, with your weight distributed evenly and your hands and knees shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your weight off your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor and your bottom is pointing to the sky, to form a triangular shape with your body.
  3. Ensure that your shoulders are sitting over your wrists and your toes are pointing forward.
  4. Hold this stretch for thirty seconds.
  5. Repeat this stretch twice more.

Towel calf stretch

  1. Sit on the floor with both of your legs out straight in front of you.
  2. Loop a long bath towel around one of your feet and hold the ends with both hands, while keeping your back straight.
  3. Slowly pull the towel towards you and make sure that your leg stays straight.
  4. Pull the towel until you can feel the stretch in your calf
  5. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  6. Return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat this stretch twice more.
  8. Switch legs and repeat this stretch three times.

Standing calf stretch

  1. Stand in front of a wall, so that your palms can be pressed flat against the wall, but your arms remain straight out in front of you.
  2. Move your right leg forward, with your knee bent slightly.
  3. Move your left leg behind you so that it's straight, and make sure your heel is pushed flat to the ground.
  4. You should be able to feel a stretch in your calf, hold this position for 30 seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat this stretch twice more.

Aerobic Exercise for lower leg pain

Aerobic exercise can be useful for rehabilitating ailments within the lower leg. However, they can also be detrimental if they are done at the wrong time. Many conditions will require a R.I.C.E. treatment (rest, ice, compression and elevation), and bearing weight at the time can make the injury much worse. So, it's very important to check with a podiatrist or medical professional before attempting any rehabilitation exercises.

Tips to prevent lower leg pain

Build muscles in your glutes

Even though glutes aren't located in the lower leg, they can cause problems for the calf muscles if they are weak. Your glutes help to propel you forward, and if they aren't strong enough to do so, then your calf muscles will have to work harder, which can cause excess stress, leading to pulled calf muscles and calf strains. To target and build the glute muscles specifically, you can do 'Bulgarian split squats', as detailed above.

Get back pain checked out quickly

Again, the sciatica nerve isn't solely located in the lower legs - however, it can be linked to issues with the calves. The sciatica nerve runs from your lower back and branches through your hip and bottom, down through your legs. Sciatica is an ailment that describes when this nerve is irritated and pain is felt as a result. While sciatica is normally felt in the back, it can also be felt in the lower leg and calves - so the pain you're feeling may not actually be a pulled calf muscle, but instead, sciatica. Sciatica can be debilitating and requires specific treatment, so, it's important to get checked out by a doctor if you suspect this ailment. You can find out more about sciatica here.

Build up your calf muscles

Building your calf muscles will allow them to handle a higher amount of stress, and makes them more resilient. To target and build the glute muscles specifically, you can do the calf raise exercise and skipping with a rope, as detailed above.

Strap your calves with Kinesio tape before playing high contact sports

Even if you don't already have a calf injury if you suspect that you're at high risk for one your can help prevent it from happening by strapping your calves with Kinesio tape. Tape can help support the calves so that they're not twisted in a way where the muscle or tendons can be damaged. Plus, some studies have shown the medical benefits of using Kinesio tape.

When to see a podiatrist about lower leg pain

Podiatrists are doctors that specialise in the lower leg and feet - so they are able to determine where your lower leg pain is coming from, and whether you have a calf strain or tear. They will conduct a physical exam and may order some further tests to properly diagnose your condition. Once your condition is determined, a podiatrist can advise you on the best way to repair and rehabilitate it.

The lower leg is made up of many different tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones - so there is a variety of problems that can occur in this region. Most of these conditions will escalate over time and are much easier to fix and rehabilitate when they're picked up early. So, it's very important to visit a medical professional for a check-up if you feel any pain or discomfort in this area.

Book your appointment with our podiatry team online here or call us on (07) 3356 3579.

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