Did you know that totally free calf stretches could save you pain? And money? Yup, it's true! I see so many patients in my Houston podiatry practice with tight calf muscles, plus foot and ankle pain.
Often, the pain is so bad that they need surgical relief. Because, once certain conditions reach advanced stages, surgery is the only treatment option. That's especially true for runners. They put so much pressure on their tight supportive muscles. And often push through that pain. Which spells big pain, and big trouble
Running with Tight Calves: A Recipe for Disaster
When you run, so many supportive muscles get involved. Your feet take a pounding. But so do your glutes, hamstrings and needs. Then, there's your calves. These muscles can get tight when you run. And that tightness often leads to pain and running injuries.
In fact, a study from the University of Gothenberg reveals that half of runners are working with an injury. That was regardless of age, gender or experience as runners. (But other studies do show women who run get hurt more often than men.) Want to know what's worse? Most of those injured participants developed knee, calf or Achilles tendon problems.
Now, some of those problems need medical intervention. Which is why lots of runners could benefit from a pair of custom orthotics. Or a change of gait. But others could avoid trouble with better warmups and cool downs. And that’s why I wish more of my patients would embrace calf stretches! So, today, I'll take you through the reasons you need to stretch your calf muscles. And the best way to do it if you want to prevent injuries.
Why Calf Stretches Offer Pain Relief
Here's the story. Podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons know: most plantar fasciitis cases have one source. And that source is calf muscles that pull on your plantar fascia. That's why calf stretches are so great for pain relief.
First, keep in mind. Your calves actually have two main muscles. These are the larger gastrocnemius and, beneath that, your soleus muscles. In combination, your calves help you walk and run by pushing your feet off the ground.
That's part of why healthy calves are crucial for runners. Especially if you aren't cross-training. Since that could mean you're dealing with weak glutes. Or if you don't warm up with dynamic stretches, since that could result in tight hip flexors.
With either of those problems, your calves have to pick up the slack. Meaning they get to work every time your feet leave the ground. And if you stride a lot, you could develop overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis.
One way to combat those injuries? Stretch out your calves. But if you don't take that step, calf pain isn't all you'll experience. In fact, tight calf muscles impact surrounding body structures. So you may develop injuries such as:
- Achilles tendon pain, since it gets inflamed from the tugs of tight calves.
- Plantar fasciitis, inflammation of a tissue band that runs from your heel to your foot. (See above)
- Metatarsalgia, or inflammation that causes ball of foot pain.
Luckily, you can avoid most of these injuries with one simple move. What is it? You've probably guessed: always-free calf stretches!
Injury Prevention with Calf Stretches
One simple way to loosen up your calf muscles is to improve flexibility. And if you want to do that, you may choose to buy a slant board. This is a flat surface that's set at an angle (or slant.) So when you stand on it, your calf stretch begins right away. Even before you start moving. That's why many physical therapists recommend standing on this board every day. For at least three minutes, so your calf muscles get a stretch.
Or, grab a simple strap (as seen on the right.) Loop the strap around your foot, flex your toes upward, and gently tug the strap towards your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times on each side.
Not into buying more stuff? I'm with you (I rolled with Marie Kondo like everyone else.) But here's the good news: there are effective calf stretches that need zero equipment. This is one of my favorites!
Equipment Free Calf Stretches
Ready to stretch your calves and prevent injury? Let's get started. First, put your hands against the wall. Any wall will do.
Then, move one leg behind you and try to push off. Drive your big toe into the ground while you do so. Not feeling enough of a stretch? No worries. You can take this stretch up a notch by sticking a small wedge under your big toe. Once you've got the perfect amount of stretch, hold your position for at least 30 seconds. Do three stretches on one side, then switch to your other side.
When to Stretch Your Calf Muscles
As a podiatrist, I know that stretching can't prevent every foot and ankle injury. But if you stick to a solid routine, you'll get more calf stretching benefits.
What should that routine look like, in an ideal world? Aim to stretch your calves every day. And try to spend three minutes on each session, three times each day, for a total of nine minutes. (To help you out on math, do the routine I described above. Three times a day. And you'll hit that target.)
If you're not stretching at all right now, nine minutes of daily stretching seems like a lot. After all, even dedicated stretchers usually stop after a minute. But if you think about the injury prevention potential, nine minutes isn't that bad. Actually, it's a lot better than wasting hours, days or months in pain. And unable to do what you love, because you're injured.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't nine minutes a day worth the reward of fewer foot problems? I say, give it a shot! If all you have to lose is foot and ankle pain, you’ll come out of the equation a winner, no matter how you look at things.
Already dealing with heel pain or ball of foot pain? Make your Houston podiatrist the pain relief destination! Schedule an appointment today, before minor pain becomes a major injury, requiring surgery.