Before we explain how to fix tight calf muscles, it is useful to know why they become tight, and also why this is a real problem. If you currently suffer from calf pain, you will know exactly how limiting it can be, but there are other associated problems that might not be so obvious.
Why Fixing Tight Calf Muscles is Important
The Function of Your Calves
The calf muscle group consists of the gastrocnemius muscle and the soleus muscle. We obviously need healthy calves to be able to move, stand, and perform any non-seated activity. The two major actions that the calf muscles are responsible for are dorsiflexion (pulling the foot back towards you) and plantarflexion ( pointing the foot away from you). When your calves are healthy – which means flexible and strong – they neatly achieve these actions. When they are not, your body will compensate by overusing other muscles such as those on the front of the shin.
Checking for Tightness
It is good to have an objective measure of your calf tightness. Any tightness will almost certainly involve a loss of motion in the ankle and this can be checked fairly easily using two tests.
Knee to wall test –
- Stand facing a wall with one foot forward so that your big toe is approximately 10cm from the wall.
- Flex your knee forward until it touches the wall (make sure your heel is on the ground).
- Move your foot forward until you can achieve number two.
- Measure the distance from your big toe to the wall.
If the distance you achieve is less than 3.5″ – 4″ (9 – 10cms), you definitely have tight calves. It is important to check both legs as they may vary. Note: There is no exact measure, or norm, as every individual varies in height, length of limbs, etc, but this test is a good guide.
Feet in the air test –
- Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest so that your shins are vertical.
- Let your whole body relax so that you are not holding tension in your legs/feet.
- Check to see whether your feet naturally fall at 90 degrees to your shins, (you may need a helper to observe this).
If your feet end up pointing up, rather than 90 degrees to your shins, your calves have shortened.
Tight Calves Ruin Posture
All parts of your body are linked and interrelated. When one part, for example a tight calf muscle, is not doing its job properly, other body parts have to compensate. Simple.
Of course, any compensation to make up for the function the calves should be performing, comes at a cost. Your posture is no exception.
When your calf muscles are overly shortened and tight, your body will be forced to shift its weight distribution forward. You will end up with your weight over the front part of your foot (foot pain anyone?) and not further back towards the heal where it is meant to be.
. . . and then the chain reaction starts as your body uses non-optimal muscles to create balance and help you move. This is a circle of unhappiness that can become quite complex to heal. Luckily, a fix for tight calves is fairly straightforward for most people.
Options to Fix Tight Calf Muscles
Apart from cases of “compartment syndrome“, (this is where the muscle becomes too big for the sheath surrounding it which causes pressure, sometimes pain and restricted movement), the universal fix for tight calf muscles is stretching.
Simple Stretching Options
Wall lean – the simplest way to stretch your calves is to stand back and lean into a wall with your heals on the ground. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds on each leg and do this three times.
2. Toes up – for a deep stretch, put the toes of one foot on a wall with the heel still on the ground. Now lean forward and hold that stretch. Rinse and repeat for both legs.
3. Use a calf stretcher – these simple devices allow you to much more easily stretch your calves. The shape of the stretcher helps you fix calf tightness in an easy and controlled way. One that we have reviewed and also recommend is the Pro Stretch by Medi-Dyne. You can read our review here – Pro Stretch Review.
So don’t continue suffering pain unnecessarily, you can fix tight calf muscles with minimal effort and the sooner you start, the easier the process.