Turning your calves into cows

A Soleus - Ottawa massage blogstrong lower leg is a key component in a strong foundation. In fact, if one of your calf muscles – the soleus (pictured at right) – were not in constant contraction, you would fall forward! Not only that, strong calf muscles protect your ankle joint, improve your running and jumping ability, and help blood flow return upward to your heart.

As with most muscles, there are two parts to ensuring strong, healthy calf muscles: strengthening and stretching. This is especially true for the gastrocnemius (the large outer calf muscle – cut away in the diagram at right), which is prone to spasms. Finding the balance between adequate amounts of strengthening and stretching can lower the chance of spasms occurring.

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The Thigh Who Loved Me

Muscle of the Month: Quadriceps

Quads - ottawa massage blog

The quadriceps (‘quads’) are the beautiful muscles that make up the fronts of your thighs. They are a group of four muscles that, working together, help flex (bend) the hip and extend (straighten) the knee. Only one of the quad muscles actually flexes the hip, while all four of them help stabilize and extend the knee. The more support and strength the knee has, the less likely it is to be prone to injury; so it is important to keep the quads strong and healthy to ensure a healthy knee joint later in life.

Rectus Femoris: This one muscle moves two joints: hip and knee

Actions – Flexes the hip, extends the knee

Common pain culprits – excessive stair climbing, running

The rectus femoris is the longest of the four quad muscles and is the only one to cross over two joints: hip and knee. This placement allows the muscle both to flex the hip and to extend the knee. This is why mounting many sets of stairs during a day might cause pain in the rectus femoris. As you take each step, you are flexing the hip then extending the knee, engaging the entire muscle repeatedly.  As with most muscles, the stronger the muscle gets, the less likely that this pain will arise.

The fix: Strengthen the rectus femoris. Keep both its actions in mind while strengthening this muscle – if you only do hip flexing exercises (such as straight leg raises) you will not address the lower fibers; and vice versa, if you only do knee extensions, you will not be targeting the upper fibers. Aim for a dynamic exercise like squats or lunges.

Vastus lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius: The three buddies of knee pain

The vastus muscles - Ottawa Massage Blog

Rectus Femoris has been removed to show Vastus Intermedius

Actions – Extends the knee

Common pain culprits – Running

These three muscles make up the rest of the quadriceps group and cause the majority of knee pain. They are located beside and underneath the rectus femoris. As they all do the same action, the only way to differentiate which one is impaired is to look for specific pain patterns, which your therapist is trained to do. The vastus medialis lies on the inside of the thigh and causes inner and deep knee pain, as well as weakness in both the knee and thigh. Vastus lateralis is on the outside of the thigh and causes outer knee pain, as well as pain that flares up while lying on one’s side. Lastly, the vastus intermedius lies deep to the rectus femoris and is the toughest to isolate, as typically it mimics the vastus medialis pain pattern and is hard to reach with massage.

The fix: Stretch before and after running, and strengthen quads. Your RMT can help you with strength tests to determine if any of these muscles is weak, and can suggest specific strength exercises for each muscle.

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