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Brian Schiff’s Blog

Injury Prevention, Sports Rehab & Performance Training Expert

Tag: soleus injuries

I returned from a Disney vacation with my family last week.  While there, I saw all the runners who had just finished the marathon.  Several of them had compression socks and I was inspired to write today’s blog.

In 2009, I wrote a blog post on soleus strains, the Anatomy of a Soleus Injury. It is a widely read post about a commonly misdiagnosed issue and brings many inquiries as to how to solve this condition that plagues runners.  One question I often get is will compression socks help?  Over the past few years, I have seen a proliferation in the use of compression socks in the recreational running community.


But what exactly do these garments do?  Some of the proposed benefits are:

  • Improved oxygen delivery to muscles
  • Faster lactic acid resolution
  • Prevention of muscle cramping
  • Better stabilization of the lower leg leading to improved muscle efficiency
  • Enhanced venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity
  • Diminished muscle fatigue resulting from more compact muscles, leading to improved balance and proprioception

What does science have to say about compression garments. I performed a literature search for relevant articles pertaining primarily to runners and endurance activity.  Below are some links to recent research abstracts:

Physiological effects of wearing graduated compression stockings during running

Compression stockings in male runners

Impact on high intensity exercise in hot conditions

Effect on 400 m sprint performance

Impact on endurance running performance

Effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance

Calf compression sleeves and impact on oxygen saturation/running performance

In summary, much of the research we have no seems to tell us the following things:

  1. Compression garments do not yield any measurable performance advantages
  2. Runners prefer low compression socks over mod/high levels for comfort
  3. Recovery does appear to be aided with compression in terms of improved venous flow and O2 saturation
  4. No specific studies on gastroc/soleus muscle strains/rehab strategies using the socks

There is no conclusive evidence that these garments will prevent muscle strains, but research does indicate that perceived exertion is lower and the psychological impact of wearing the garment may aid runners.  I have not tried these myself, but some of my clients swear by them.  The idea of supporting/compressing soft tissue is certainly not new and many find some comfort in it.  We need more studies specific to injured populations to accurately evaluate the impact on those recovering from gastroc/soleus strains.

With that said, I am in favor of any modality that may allow athletes to train and compete with more confidence and less perceived exertion even if there is no direct measurable performance gain.  While I will stop short of endorsing these compression socks, I do see some potential benefits for those coming back from an injury in terms of recovery that warrant some consideration until they resume their prior levels of activity pain free.  For runners suffering from muscle injuries, utilizing soft tissue mobilization, stretching, strengthening, and proper running progression is still a an absolute must.

I work with many runners in our clinic.  I often see restrictions in the soleus.  While the running community is warming up to soft tissue mobilization, many runners are still resistant to embrace it routinely and engage in it more so only when they are hurt or lacking flexibility.

STM (soft tissue mobilization) should be part of every runner’s maintenance program.  Why?  Simply put, repetitive stress takes its toll on the body.  Rolling or releasing the tissue increases blood flow, eliminates trigger points, and facilitates optimal soft tissue mobility and range of motion.

In the diagram below, you can see common trigger points in the soleus.  The X represents the trigger point & the red shaded area is the referred pain caused by the trigger point.


In the case of the soleus, restricted dorsiflexion could lead to other biomechanical compensations with running.  Initially, this often creates a dysfunctional and non-painful (DN) pattern.  Over time, this may eventually become a dysfunctional and painful (DP) pattern forcing runners to seek medical care.  The terms DN and DP come from Gray Cook’s Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA).

The gait cycle is certainly altered from dysfunction in this muscle.  If ankle joint dorsiflexion is compromised (a common effect of soleus restrictions), there can be increased strain on the quads and altered movement in the hip.  Overpronation and excessive hip adduction and internal rotation are common compensations seen with running.  Other signs and pathology that may be associated with a soleus trigger point may include:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Heel pain
  • Shin pain
  • Knee or hip pain
  • Back pain

As such, restoring mobility is important.  A recent study revealed that immediate improvement in ankle motion can be attained with just a single treatment (click here for the abstract).

So how do you effectively resolve soft tissue issues in this area?  I suggest using a foam roller or better yet the footballer and baller block in the Ultimate 6 Kit for Runners by Trigger Point (see pic below)


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