Foot Issues Related to Tight Calves
Tight calves are one of the most common soft tissue issues I see. As a population, the majority of our movement is forward-based, so the muscles on the backside of our bodies get tight; this includes both the hamstrings and calf-achilles complex.
Most people, including athletes, should stretch these posterior-chain muscles on a regular basis, but neglect to do so.
When your calf-achilles complex is tight, it will pull at its attachment point on the back of your heel. This will pull the heel up and off the ground earlier than normal.
Your body weight will shift forwards and you can overload the forefoot, knees, hips and low back. While tight calves are not the root cause of most issues, they can exacerbate pain due to increased loading.
Here are some common issues correlated to tight calves:
An early heel lift will mean you spend more time on your forefoot. If you have a collapsed metatarsal, or forefoot, arch, this can aggravate pressure on the toe joints and reduce the space for nerves to run in-between the toes. This interdigital nerve entrapment can lead to numbness, tingling or neuromas.
Posterior Heel/Achilles Pain
Chronic tension on the back of the heel from calf-Achilles tightness can lead to localized inflammation. Some people can develop a bony prominence on the back of the heel called a Haglund’s bump. This can make shoe fitting a bit more challenging than otherwise. Bone spurs can also develop as a result of that chronic tension. Lastly, the Achilles’ tendon itself can become inflamed and turn into a full-blown Achilles’ tendinopathy.
Because tight calves cause an early heel lift, you will spend more time on the forefoot with the heel and ankle elevated. This elevated position means that the musculature spanning the ankle joint has to do a lot more work to keep the ankle stable. Some patients will complain of pain or discomfort that runs down either side of the ankle bone.
As your body weight shifts forwards from an early heel lift, you load the anterior – or frontal – compartment of the knee more than is typical. Anyone with a history of knee injury or osteoarthritis in the joint should make sure to stretch their calves so as to limit the aforementioned increase in load.
READ: Expert tips for Managing Knee OA
You can take precautions by strengthening, foam rolling and stretching calf muscles to reduce fatigue and improve recovery.
Kristin Ohm-Pedersen, B.HKin, C. Ped (C)
Talk To An Expert!
If you have any questions or concerns about tight calves or other conditions, book an appointment to talk to a pedorthist at a Kintec location near you!
Aimee WallbrinkJanuary 19, 2019 at 8:38 pm
Yes, I have tight calves and have had them for a long time, also.. plantar fasciitis, but that is getting better. Anyways, I do stretch and do foot/toe raises. Any other suggestions?
KintecJanuary 23, 2019 at 10:07 am
Hey Aimee, thank you for your question! Here’s our guide to strengthening calf muscles: https://kintec.net/blog/how-to-stretch-and-strengthen-calves/
If you have any other questions, find a pedorthist at a Kintec near you: https://kintec.net/contact-us/
Mel RoweMarch 3, 2019 at 2:26 am
I have been getting really tired sore calves after a run it comes on 2or so hours after a run. I don’t feel tired whilst running at all. The soreness in claves also flares up my plantar fasciitis really bad. What can I do to prevent this occurring.
SamMarch 30, 2019 at 2:49 am
Hi, I believe I have quite tight calves and when I’m running, after around 2 miles I get a tingling feeling in my foot and it just seems to go numb! I have no idea how to get rid of this pain. Any ideas on what I can do?
ShaneApril 2, 2019 at 12:30 am
Can tight calves create tightness through the FHL, and create a pseudo hullux limitus/rigidis, perhaps even cause some irritation in the 1st metaphalangeal joint?
Nazish NabiApril 28, 2019 at 6:48 pm
I have tight gastrocnemius and soleus.I have constant pain in my Achilles tendon.What kind of footwear is recommended for me?I am an anaesthetist so have to stand in the operation theatre for long hours.My pain is increasing day by day.
Kintec Footwear + OrthoticsJune 17, 2019 at 4:31 pm
Hi Nazish, thank you for your question. We would suggest trying custom orthotics to relieve the pain you are feeling when standing for long hours. Proper footwear that provides lost of cushioning and is stretchy is very important as well. New Balance, Hoka, and Brooks all offer comfortable, breathable shoes that will help with your achilles tendon pain.
Michael BassoMay 14, 2019 at 2:50 pm
I have been wearing orthotics for 30 years and still have problems with sore feet and calves. Is there someone you could recommend in the US. I live in Milwaukee,
Kintec Footwear + OrthoticsJune 17, 2019 at 4:18 pm
Hi Michael, thank you for your question. We would recommend custom orthotics to help alleviate your sore feet. For sore calves we would suggest trying compression socks. They are great for calf circulation and the reduction in calf pain. Certified pedorthists are the people you will want to see for custom orthotics. There are two places in Milwaukee that we would recommend;”Happy Feet Shoes & Pedorthics” or “NPS Footwear & Orthotics”.
TylerMay 24, 2019 at 8:00 pm
I was suffering with tight calf pain for almost a year, and terrible feet for a decade or more. Three weeks ago I did a 35k bike ride at slightly faster than leisurely. I’m not an athlete and I almost never ride that far. To my surprise, my calf pain and even my foot pain were almost entirely gone for about two weeks after. It was so nice! Almost entirely pain free for two weeks! But now it’s all back. With a vengeance. As bad as it’s ever been. Any ideas?
Kintec Footwear + OrthoticsJune 17, 2019 at 3:36 pm
Hi Tyler, thank you for your question. We would suggest booking an appointment with a doctor or certified pedorthists to take a look and properly assess your feet. If we can properly align your feet with the right footwear and/or custom orthotics than that should alleviate your calf pain. You should also try medical compression socks.These help greatly in reducing calf pain and help with proper circulation in the calf and foot. Medical compression socks will require a doctors note, however; you can purchase regular compression socks on your own but they will not be as strong as the medical ones.
CKD care planJune 28, 2019 at 6:14 am
Good article on Issues Related to Tight Calves. Thank you so much for this fruitful article.
steve cJuly 12, 2019 at 8:59 pm
Can tight calf muscles cause my hammer toes and claw foot? Will stretching the calves and hamstrings help?
Michael Ryan - Director of R&DOctober 13, 2021 at 12:32 pm
Hi Steve – Stretching your calf muscles may help, but lesser-toe deformities like claw foot is actually more a function of an imbalance in strength between the long toe flexors and extensors. Best to book in to see a pedorthist for a detailed approach.
Dwayne CJuly 17, 2019 at 1:22 pm
I am 45, continually having left calf strains from running, even at reduced pace. I can rehab with a certified therapist, including deep tissue massage, muscle stim, ice, rest, stretching, and yet they recur. I am VERY tight by nature, including significant anterior pelvic tilt. I am attending Yoga classes at the moment as well, trying almost anything. I do not want to have to quit running forever. Could orthotics (raising my heel a bit) potentially help do you think?
Michael Ryan - Director of R&DOctober 13, 2021 at 12:34 pm
Hi Dwayne, yes raising your heel through either a lift under your orthotic, or even just using footwear with a higher heel pitch, may help keep you running. Also good to work on dynamic stretches for the calves, as well as spending short intervals walking barefoot provided this doesn’t aggravate your symptoms.
sofiaJanuary 24, 2020 at 1:25 pm
Hi I had a super tight calf and it seemed to die down but now i keep getting tingling pain in the middle of my hamstring down to my 5th metartasal under my foot along w sudden shots of pain
Michael RyanMarch 29, 2020 at 10:05 pm
Hi Sofia, thanks for your question. Calf and hamstring tightness are often related as these muscles are part of what’s called the posterior sling of the lower body. In particular your calf tightness may be causing your heel to raise earlier in your gait putting more pressure on your forefoot and aggravating your 5th metatarsal pain. I’d suggest giving our new free 15-minute phone consultation (https://kintec.net/appointment-booking/) a call to discuss whether deep tissue work, footwear, or orthotics would work best. Take care!
BrettApril 15, 2020 at 5:06 pm
Hi. I am just starting to jog again after taking a couple of years off due to a foot drop issue on my right foot. I got an afo (Xtern Turbomed) that works great. My right foot/leg has no issues when jogging and feels great. My left calf / achilles gets super tight to the point I have to stop and stretch it out about every 1/4 mile in order to keep going. I do stretch for about 15 minutes before jogging. I got a compression sock to try as well. Any suggestions that you think might help?
Thanks so much
Michael RyanApril 16, 2020 at 1:37 pm
HI Brett – thanks for the question and good on you for sticking to your running goals! I suspect that the tightness in your left calf may be a function of that leg working harder during your runs. To make it easier to run, you may want to try a shoe with a strong forefoot rocker that it help to pivot your ankle forward like the Nike React Infinity. To help with the tightness, even a simple rolling ball applied to the calf muscle a day or two after the run should help with the tightness. The exercises in our Plantar Fasciitis treatment page (if you scroll down) will be helpful and there’s some video on how to use those rollers. Let us know how that works!
Anna ChorzepaMay 28, 2020 at 2:45 am
I have been suffering from tight calf and pins and needles in my foot on the same leg for the past 4 days. I have been massaging the calf and stretching it but it is not going away. Could you please point me towards the right excersize/ recovery method? I’m not sure what is the cause of this as I was excersizing as normal. I increased my magnesium intake just in case as well.
Michael Ryan - Director of R&DJune 8, 2020 at 10:14 am
Hi Anna, check out the exercises we have outlined in our Foot Health Centre (https://kintec.net/plantar-fasciitis-2/) that will help relax and stretch the muscles in the foot and calf. Remember that you should only feel the stretch ‘intensity’ as a 3/10 and hold for a good 30-60 seconds; don’t feel you need to be too aggressive. Hope that helps!
Jerry McDonaldSeptember 24, 2020 at 9:48 pm
Every time I start a walking program, not running yet, but just trying to build some leg muscle strength from slowly walking, I seem to whole or actually I think, tear my Gastro muscle.
I am pretty sure they are tears from the pain and links of time they get to feeling a little better, but as always, I start walking and injure that muscle again. Could this be from my feet not biomechanicallyFunctioning? Could it be one leg longer than the other? Could it be from One arts falling more than the other? Not sure where to go from here. Custom orthotics did not work out well for me in the past
Michael Ryan - Director of R&DOctober 7, 2020 at 9:36 am
Hi Jerry, Thanks for your comment and we can certainly appreciate the challenges of recurring pain through your gastrocnemius/calf muscles while resuming a walking program. I suspect your recurrence of pain may be associated with some tightness in the soft-tissue in both your feet and calf area, as well as possible alignment abnormalities that are forcing these muscles at the back of your leg to work harder. To help understand the nature of your tight calves more, I’d recommend booking a time to see one of our pedorthists who will do a deeper dive into your functional and structural limitations and then work with you to develop a treatment plan that considers what you’ve done in the past. To book this appointment, just follow this link and select ‘Orthotic Assessment’: https://kintec.net/appointment-booking/. Cheers!
MerryMarch 16, 2021 at 6:57 pm
Hi, I have been struggling with plantar fasciitis for over a year. Now it has morphed into tight calf and lower back pain as well. I have tried a podiatrist, steroid shots, massage, acupuncture and 2 different chiropractors, several different insets and shoes. I am a floral designer and stand all day. during shut down my pain went away but has returned as i am working more again. I am at my wits end and i am desperate for help. Thank you.
Michael Ryan - Director of R&DMarch 17, 2021 at 10:32 am
Hi Merry – Thanks for reaching out and sharing your story. We understand that recalcitrant plantar heel pain is both frustrating and debilitating, but there still are options for you. Firstly, I’d suggesting checking out our Plantar Fasciitis: Complete Treatment Guide. I would draw your attention to the exercises and PDF document that outlines a training plan for strengthening the muscles in your feet that will help take stress off of the plantar fascia ligament. Alternatively, one of our pedorthists can guide you through this process and take a critical look at your existing insoles, footwear and activity profile – https://kintec.net/appointment-booking/. Hope this helps!