Tight calf muscles can be very painful and may lead to cramp, torn muscle and the inability to straighten the leg. If left untreated, more serious problems may arise. Calves may become tight due to a combination of factors, including dehydration, lack of potassium, poor circulation, over-exercise, posture and a lack of crucial vitamins. There are many ways to treat this problem at home, without the need for a physiotherapist or expensive equipment.
Stretching is paramount in the treatment of calf tightness. To avoid over-stretching or injuring another muscle, it is best to do these stretches sitting down. Firstly, you can sit on the floor with your legs stretched out flat in front of you, toes upwards. Slowly reach forward with your arms, bending from the hips. Try to touch your toes, but don't over-reach if you can't. You'll feel the stretch along the back of your calf, and will know how far you can comfortably stretch. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then release, and bend your legs to relax the muscle. Repeat twice more, aiming to reach a little further with each stretch. Don't be tempted to push yourself any more than is comfortable, or you may do more harm than good.
You can also do this stretch with a physio band, which is essentially a giant piece of elastic. Many websites sell them at a small cost. One such product is called the Cliniband. You assume the above position, loop the band under the ball of your toes, and slowly pull the band towards the body. These bands are extremely useful as they allow for a more gentle stretch and the calf tends to be more relaxed during the stretch.
There is another stretch but this one can be quite difficult. Face a wall, and place your hands flat at shoulder height. Put your right foot up to the wall so that your toes touch it. Place your left foot (at hip width) one foot space further back. Now bend your knees, stabilising yourself with your hands. Bend until the right knee touches the wall, or as close as you can get, and hold for a few seconds. This one may hurt, but it is an excellent stretch. Switch positions to stretch the other leg. Alternatively, place your hands in the same position, with the right foot below the right hip, and the left leg stretched back. Keep both feet flat to the floor and feel the stretch in the left leg. Switch and repeat. You can increase the stretch by placing the rear leg further back.
Deep muscle massage can be extremely useful, but must be gentle in the initial stages to prevent the occurrence of cramp. Start from the back of the ankle, with the leg bent, and move upwards towards the back of the knee. Use a slight pressure and move your fingers from the centre of the leg outwards and upwards to achieve the best massage. As the muscle relaxes you can increase pressure if necessary. This massage is often most effective if done in the bath, as the warm water helps to relax the muscle further.
For calves that are too tight and painful to massage, try this (or get someone to do it for you). Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front. Slightly point the toes upward and you will see the arch of the calf muscle running down the inside of your leg. Place your middle finger at the centre of this arch, and rest your thumb at the same point on the outside of the leg. Press very slightly and slowly with your middle finger, and wait for about 20 seconds. It's amazing how quickly this method works, as it utilizes pressure points in the calf muscle to prevent spasm and increase blood flow to the area. You can repeat this as desired, and move on to massage once the muscle is relaxed.
To avoid tight calves, drink plenty of water, especially during exercise. Ginger and garlic in the diet will help to improve circulation, as will vitamin C. Make sure you have plenty of potassium in your diet; tomatoes, bananas and mushrooms are good sources for this. Magnesium and Calcium have also been proven to help prevent cramp, so you may benefit from a good multi-vitamin, although nothing compares to fresh sources from a healthy diet. Stretch well, but gently, before and after exercise, and wear sensible footwear during your workout.