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.
Some of the common issues correlated to tight calves are:
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 MORE: Treatment Options for Common Knee Injuries
Below are some calf stretches you can add into your daily, or post-workout, routine. Make sure you hold each stretch for 45-60 seconds to get the full benefit of the stretch!
You can also use a foam roller or a stick roller to roll out the calves. This has the added effect of ensuring the muscles don’t adhere to one another and can allow a physiotherapist or massage therapist to get deeper through the tissue.
Standing Calf Stretches – Gastrocnemius and Soleus
Stand about three feet from a wall and step your right foot behind with your toes are facing forward. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward with your right knee straight. Hold this for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch to the other side.
Stand away from a wall and step your right foot behind with your toes are facing forward. Lean forward at the ankle while bending the right knee and keeping your heel on the ground. Hold this for 30 to 60 seconds, then switch to the other side.
READ MORE: 4 Injury-Reducing Stretches for Runners
Stand with your toes and the balls of your feet on a step with your weight forward. Hold onto a support for balance if needed. Lift your heels as high as you can. Then, slowly lower your heels below the step line until you feel a good stretch in your lower calves. Hold for 45 seconds to a minute.
Talk To An Expert!
If you have any questions or concerns about tight calves or other conditions, talk to a pedorthist at a Kintec location near you!
Kristin Ohm-Pedersen, B.HKin, C. Ped (C)