Man massaging tight calf muscles

How to Massage Tight Calf Muscles

- Cloud Massage Brand Team 

Man massaging tight calf muscles

We’ve all had days where we’ve woken up and our calf muscles feel tight. Although it can feel alarming to walk and be unsteady, tight calf muscles aren’t usually a cause for serious concern. Thankfully, there are easy ways to help lessen the discomfort without having to seek medical attention. In this guide we’ll look at some of the causes of painful or tight calf muscles, as well as effective home remedies, ice and heat therapy, how to massage tight calf muscles and more.

Why Do My Calves Feel Tight?

If you wake up with tight calf muscles, your first thought is often “What happened?”. There are several possible causes of tight calf muscles that are related to day-to-day activities: 

  • Prolonged use of the muscle, e.g. a long hike 
  • Sudden increase or start of intense use, e.g. new workout routine
  • Change in footwear type, e.g. heels or sandals

A less likely, but more serious, cause would be the presence of muscle tears or muscle atrophy. If you suspect either of these are the reason for your calf pain, please seek professional medical advice.

Any of the activities listed above can cause a calf muscle strain, but shouldn’t make you worry. They're all common occurrences, particularly when changing a lifestyle or routine. Muscle soreness can start immediately or begin after 12 hours, peaking at around 48 to 72 hours later. According to pain that starts immediately is called acute soreness, and pain that starts later is referred to as delayed-onset soreness.

Both types of muscle soreness can go on for anything from one to several days, but there are thankfully several methods you can try to help alleviate the discomfort.

1. Stretching

Gently stretching out the affected muscles can help to speed up the healing process. This can feel slightly uncomfortable, but if it causes sharp pain you should stop and seek medical advice. 

2. Rest

It might seem obvious, but resting sore muscles helps. Raising your calves, or supporting the knees can reduce some of the strain you may experience from resting with your legs straight.

3. Massage

Self-massaging, either with your hands or a massage device, can provide relief from sore muscles. Just like with stretching, be alert for the difference between discomfort and pain. A massage is one of the most beneficial things you can do for stiff calves. Let's dive deeper into massage techniques for tight calf muscles and how to use a self calf massager to alleviate the pain. Our favorite method to alleviate pain through massage is with our Shiatsu Foot & Leg massager machine.

Ice or Heat for Tight Calf Muscles?

Another effective way to deal with tight calf muscles is by applying ice or heat to them. Both options provide relief for muscle strains and aches, but for different reasons.

Here's when to use ice or heat for tight calf muscles:

Ice for Tight Calf Muscles

  • Using ice on a muscle strain works by reducing inflammation and swelling where it’s applied. You can use a cold compress, ice pack, or even a bag of peas wrapped in a towel. The Cleveland Clinic recommends using ice immediately after you feel muscle strain, then you can switch to heat once inflammation has died down. 

Heat for Tight Calf Muscles

  • Applying heat works to alleviate tight calf muscles by increasing the blood flow of that area. Having a heat pad or hot water bottle underneath your legs when you lie down can provide relief to your sore calves. Another option to relax and relieve tight muscles is with a warm shower/bath. The warm water may feel better than a heat pad because there is less direct pressure on your calves. A recommended option would be using a heated foot and calf massager to reduce joint stiffness and increase blood circulation to the calf muscles. 

It's also suggested to apply either ice or heat for 20 minutes and then removing it for 20 minutes. You can repeat as needed, but prolonged exposure to the extreme heat or cold can cause overheating or burns. 

Can a Massage Loosen Tight Calf Muscles?

The short answer is: yes, a massage can loosen tight calf muscles. The long answer involves going into more detail about calf massage benefits for tight muscles.

To start, we need to remember that the calf is actually made up of two main muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscle. When you want to massage stiff calves, aiming for the trigger points in these muscles will give the most tension release. Once a trigger point, also known as a knot, has been effectively manipulated, the whole muscle will become softer and less tight. 

If you are unsure about how to remedy the particular ache you have in your calves or if the muscle pain is recurring or quite severe, it can be a good idea to get professional advice. Visiting an experienced professional such as a physiotherapist or massage therapist can help you get the relief you need. 

How to Massage Tight Calf Muscles

Thankfully, calves are a relatively easy area of the body to access, either with your hands or a massage device. These days there is a huge variety of massage devices that make getting a deep tissue calf massage easy:

  • Shiatsu massagers
  • Massage guns
  • Foam rollers
  • Trigger point balls 

We carry various body massagers in our collection that can be useful for other areas of the body other than just your calves. As useful and easy-to-use as all the above devices are, you will still need to know how to target the right areas to get the most relief. 

Calf Trigger Points & Techniques 

The calf trigger points are all located towards the top of the calf muscle, so focusing any massage on this area will be the most beneficial. Start with gentle pressure stroking up and down the leg to warm up the muscle, then move on to kneading the area. After several minutes of consistent kneading you should begin to feel the knots and tightness lessen. If the muscle is still sore, apply deep and sustained pressure along the length of the muscle to work out any remaining tension. 

You can apply these massage techniques with your hands or by using a massage device.

Shiatsu Foot & Leg Massager

Shiatsu massage is a type of massage that specifically targets pressure points to release tension. Our highly versatile version comes ready to provide a massage for your lower legs or feet. Positioning the shiatsu massager just below the knee will allow it to access the calf trigger points easily and effectively. 

The shiatsu massager comes with different massage settings with 5 levels of intensity. Choose from compression, rolling, and swaying to find the best relief. You can also incorporate vibration and a low heat into your foot and calf massage to further promote blood flow. For more information as well as a video showing you how it works, please visit the quick start guide.

Premium Percussion Massage Gun

Using a massage gun on your own calves can take a little bit of trial and error. The main challenge comes from locating the trigger points in the calf muscle. Sitting with your feet together in front of you will allow you enough space to access the whole calf muscle, leading to a more effective massage. 

Our premium percussion massage gun has a portability benefit over the shiatsu massager, as well as offering a more targeted, deep-tissue massage. It is also great for the whole body, but the type of massage it offers is more limited than the shiatsu massager with four different massage gun attachments to compliment your ideal massage pressure and intensity. 

To get the best of both worlds, we offer an Ultimate Recovery Bundle which includes both the shiatsu massager and the massage gun. 

Foam Rollers 

Foam rollers require more practice than electronic devices. You might benefit from training or instructional videos to learn how to get the most effective results. However, that’s not to say you can’t get some relief by using it in a simple way. For calves, lay the foam roller on a mat underneath your legs, take your weight in your arms and roll your calves back and forth over the roller. The relief isn’t as targeted as with a handheld device, but the deep and sustained pressure from a roller can help loosen overall tension.

Trigger Point Balls

Like the foam rollers, trigger point balls take some practice to get good results. They are also available in a variety of sizes, textures, and densities, depending on the muscles needing relief. For the most part, using a smooth ball to massage the trigger points in your calves in a circular motion can provide some relief. It is more targeted than a foam roller, but can sometimes be too intense. We would recommend seeking the advice of a physiotherapist or other medical professional before using trigger point balls as your main source of muscle pain relief.   


Now that we’ve looked at the methods to massage tight calf muscles, you should be fully prepared next time it happens. 

There are a few ways to help minimize muscle tightness and strains before they happen. Warming up before exercise, cooling down afterwards, and drinking plenty of water are all small things you can do to help you wake up ready to leap out of bed.