The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Weak Calf Muscles Could Be One of the Causes of Foot Pain: Here’s How to Strengthen Them

Posted by on Monday, April 16th, 2018


The calf muscles are the key to lower leg strength and stability. The gastrocnemius muscle that gives the calf its round shape and the flatter soleus muscle running down the leg combine to power you through squats, jumps, and runs. It’s the calf that prevents the foot from excessive rolling outward (supination) or inward (pronation) as you walk. Here, The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine will explain some of the foot and ankle conditions connected to weak calves and inform you of one of the best exercises to improve foot and ankle stability.


Possible Causes of Foot Pain Due to Weak Calf Muscles

Complaints about big toe pain could possibly be linked to problems with calf strength. Many people don’t realize it, but the calves are connected to the big toe.  The flexor hallucis longus (FHL) is one of the three deep muscles in the back of the leg that attaches to the plantar surface of the distal phalanx of the big toe. Exercises that involve raising up on the toes are the secret to working these smaller muscles within the calf.

Many patients with weak calf muscles develop foot and ankle problems such as:

  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Achilles Tendinopathy or Rupture
  • Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (Shin Splints)
  • Metatarsal Stress Fractures
  • Interdigital Bursitis
  • Morton’s Neuroma

What Causes Weak Calves?

There are many reasons why you may be experiencing weakened or atrophied calves:

  • Disuse of the leg following surgery
  • Disease or genetic problems
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Worn-out footwear
  • Reduced foot/ankle mobility
  • Poor muscle flexibility

What Is The Best Way To Do A Calf Raise?

If we had to pick just one exercise that does the most good for the entire lower limb—the calves, ankles, Achilles, feet, and toes—it’d have to be the calf raise. Though it’s one of the most basic exercises we learn about in gym class, it’s also one of the most important for strength and control. It’s one of the best overload injury prevention techniques as well.

The correct technique for calf raises is to push through the big toe joint, rising up onto your heels at a slow and controlled speed.

Personal trainers recommend a two-second stretch, followed by a one-second contraction up, a two-second isometric hold at the top of the range-of-motion, and then a one-second eccentric motion back down. In other words: you probably want to slow down your calf raises from what you may be used to doing. Be mindful of your movements. When you lower yourself slowly back down again, be sure you are maintaining your body weight through the big toe. Be careful not to let your foot tilt to the outside of the forefoot.

Many people like to hit the gym for a seated calf raise. While this will effectively strengthen the small soleus muscle, it does little for the gastrocnemius. Since your hamstrings are disengaged in a seated position, the meaty part of the calf fails to activate during a seated calf raise, so you’re better off standing.

Vary your approach every other day to maximize the benefits of calf raises. One day, aim for 50 light reps. Another day, add some weights and do 10-20. The weight will help you build more muscle, while the variations help build endurance and adaptability. Advanced athletes may try throwing in a few sets of box jumps for additional cardio and explosive power to help them compete.

Take The Next Step With Gait Analysis From Dr. Geldwert’s Team.

If you have any specific questions and live in the New York City area, please contact us to get in touch with Dr. Geldwert, DPM and his team at The Center For Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. We welcome you to stop in to see us to have your concerns about calf strengthening addressed directly. We can take you through 3D Gait Analysis and a customized rehabilitation program. We love helping athletes reach peak performance and recover from chronic injury.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.