Calf (leg)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The calf is the back portion of the lower leg
Cross-section of lower right leg, through the calf, showing its 4 compartments: anterior at upper right; lateral at center right; deep posterior at center; superficial posterior at the bottom
Anatomical terminology

The calf (pl.: calves; Latin: sura) is the back portion of the lower leg in human anatomy.[1] The muscles within the calf correspond to the posterior compartment of the leg. The two largest muscles within this compartment are known together as the calf muscle and attach to the heel via the Achilles tendon. Several other, smaller muscles attach to the knee, the ankle, and via long tendons to the toes.


From Middle English calf, kalf, from Old Norse kalfi, possibly derived from the same Germanic root as English calf ("young cow"). Cognate with Icelandic kálfi ("calf of the leg").[2] Calf and calf of the leg are documented in use in Middle English circa AD 1350 and AD 1425 respectively.[3]

Historically, the absence of calf, meaning a lower leg without a prominent calf muscle, was regarded by some authors as a sign of inferiority: it is well known that monkeys have no calves, and still less do they exist among the lower orders of mammals.[4]


The calf is composed of the muscles of the posterior compartment of the leg: The gastrocnemius and soleus (composing the triceps surae muscle) and the tibialis posterior. The sural nerve provides innervation.

Clinical significance[edit]

Medical conditions that result in calf swelling among other symptoms include deep vein thrombosis[5] compartment syndrome,[6][7] Achilles tendon rupture, and varicose veins.

Idiopathic leg cramps are common and typically affect the calf muscles at night.[8] Edema also is common and in many cases idiopathic. In a small study of factory workers in good health, wearing compression garments helped to reduce edema and the pain associated with edema.[9] A small study of runners found that wearing knee-high compression stockings while running significantly improved performance.[10]

The circumference of the calf has been used to estimate selected health risks. In Spain, a study of 22,000 persons 65 or older found that a smaller calf circumference was associated with a higher risk of undernutrition.[11] In France, a study of 6265 persons 65 or older found an inverse correlation between calf circumference and carotid plaques.[12]

Calf augmentation and restoration is available, using a range of prosthesis devices and surgical techniques

Training and Exercise[edit]

The calves can be isolated by performing movements involving plantarflexion (pointing the toes down). The two major categories of calf exercises are those that maintain an extended knee, and those that maintain a flexed knee.

The first category includes movements such as standing calf raises, donkey calf raises and stair calves. The second category includes movements that maintain a bent knee, such as seated calf raises. Movements with a straight knee will target the gastrocnemius muscle more, and movements with a bent-knee will target the soleus muscle more. However, both variations will target both muscles to a large degree.

As the calf muscles are predominantly slow-twitch, they should be trained in a moderate to high repetition range. All repetition ranges offer their own benefits, and as such, calf training should be done in the 5-10 repetition range, the 10-20 repetition range, and the 20-30 repetition range.

It is important to train the calves relatively close to failure, which is 0-4 repetitions away from technical failure. They recover quickly, often requiring rest times of as little as 10 seconds and often no more than 60 seconds. Ensuring a 1-2 second pause at the top and bottom of the movement will put more emphasis on the muscle, and less emphasis on the achilles tendon.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "calf". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ "calf - Wiktionary". Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  3. ^ Hans Kurath (1959). Middle English dictionary. University of Michigan Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-472-01031-8. page 20
  4. ^ Maria Montessori (1913). Pedagogical anthropology. Frederic Taber Cooper. Frederick A. Stokes Company. pp. 508. page 311
  5. ^ David Simel; Drummond Rennie; Robert Hayward; Sheri A Keitz (2008). The rational clinical examination: Evidence-based clinical diagnosis. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 500. ISBN 978-0-07-159030-3. page 229
  6. ^ Drey IA, Baruch H (February 2008). "Acute compartment syndrome of the calf presenting after prolonged decubitus position". Orthopedics. 31 (2): 184. doi:10.3928/01477447-20080201-08. PMID 19292184.
  7. ^ Hartgens F, Hoogeveen AR, Brink PR (August 2008). "[Athletes with exercise-related pain at the medial side of the lower leg]". Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde (in Dutch). 152 (33): 1839–43. PMID 18783163.
  8. ^ Young G (2009). "Leg cramps". Clinical Evidence. 2009. PMC 2907778. PMID 19445755.
  9. ^ Blättler W, Kreis N, Lun B, Winiger J, Amsler F (2008). "Leg symptoms of healthy people and their treatment with compression hosiery". Phlebology. 23 (5): 214–21. doi:10.1258/phleb.2008.008014. PMID 18806203. S2CID 23827067.
  10. ^ Kemmler W, von Stengel S, Köckritz C, Mayhew J, Wassermann A, Zapf J (January 2009). "Effect of compression stockings on running performance in men runners". Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 23 (1): 101–5. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818eaef3. PMID 19057400. S2CID 5809442.
  11. ^ Cuervo M, Ansorena D, García A, González Martínez MA, Astiasarán I, Martínez JA (2009). "[Assessment of calf circumference as an indicator of the risk for hyponutrition in the elderly]". Nutrición Hospitalaria (in Spanish). 24 (1): 63–7. PMID 19266115.
  12. ^ Debette S, Leone N, Courbon D, Gariépy J, Tzourio C, Dartigues JF, Ritchie K, Alpérovitch A, Ducimetière P, Amouyel P, Zureik M (November 2008). "Calf circumference is inversely associated with carotid plaques" (PDF). Stroke: A Journal of Cerebral Circulation. 39 (11): 2958–65. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.108.520106. PMID 18703804.