Your soleus muscles (one in each of your calves) are part of your cardiovascular system - look after them well!
Read this fascinating piece (standing with a stone or ball under your bare foot, moving your foot slightly every 10 seconds!) if you suffer from chronic venous disorders (CVD - spider or varicose veins, leg ulcers, pitting edema, leg pain, joint pain, congestion, skin irritation, and itching, restless legs or muscle cramps!
Here’s a summary.
70% of the blood in the cardiovascular system remains below the heart. Most of this blood collects into the veins of the legs.
Gravity creates static venous pressures of 100 mmHg or more in the feet and lower legs.
Our compliant skin stretches out, accommodating extensive blood and interstitial fluid pooling, so much so that it interferes with venous return to the heart and cardiac output.
Both our veins and skin have visco-elastic properties, which leads to additional fluid pooling.
This pooling is limited by the action of the calf muscle pumps (soleus muscles). They continually return blood and interstitial fluid back to the heart. While contraction occurs when first sitting or standing up, creating muscle tone which can limit venous pooling, muscles fatigue over a few tens of minutes, leaving the soleus muscles as the primary muscle pump in the lower leg.
The soleus muscles alone are responsible for over 70% of the fluid return from the lower body, with the foot and thigh pumps contributing the remainder.
Both soleus muscles (one in each leg) play a critical role in the return of venous and lymphatic fluid to the heart. They are often called our “secondary hearts.”
A primary reason why our modern lifestyle has led to a large increase in CVD is that we rarely use our soleus muscles in daily life because of excessive sitting.
Sitting prevents the other muscles in the calves - gastrocnemius – to contract and contribute to any venous/lymphatic pumping.
Sitting does not involve the soleus muscles.
Squatting, however, does!
When squatting, the soleus muscles become the main lower limb muscle at work. Learning to squat is important and should happen very gradually.
The first signs of soleus failure are: lower leg swelling, varicose veins, fatigue, cognitive disorders.
CVD comes from the loss of normal soleus muscle function
Soleus muscles CAN be re-trained.
Because soleus muscles are deep postural muscles, training should be of low level, but long duration.
“Pressure on the forefoot leads to a firing of the soleus muscle, while pressure on the heel leads to a relaxation of the soleus muscle”. Isn’t that interesting? Especially if you have come to a class, private session or workshop and are practising your calf stretch and foot mobilisation. (you’re welcome!)
Your calf muscles, and every 600+ muscle in your body, are part of your cardiovascular system.
A passive solution, "micromechanical plantar stimulation", should be viewed as a short-term solution.
Rather than short isolated bouts of squatting, make squatting a long-term goal as a way of life!
Squatting does seem difficult because our bodies have adapted to sitting, which is why many other muscles need to be brought back to life first, which is why a whole-body approach is necessary, involving restoring mobility in the ankle and the foot.
✨Conclusion: You can choose a quick fix as the article suggests, but the long term solution is restorative exercise, the practice of which will help restore all body functions over time! 😊
Thank you for reading! 🙏
Now do your calf stretch with legs straight for the gastrocnemius and with legs bent for the soleus, and expose your feet to natural movements and textures.
Mum of 4, nature lover, passionate about the power of human movement.