I often joke with clients that calf stretches cure allergies. This is obviously ridiculous, but improving motion at the ankle may help address or prevent a large number of issues including:1,2,3
- Patellofemoral pain/Patellar tendon injury
- Achilles Tendonitis
- Muscle strain injuries
- Plantar Fasciitis
Addressing tightness in the calves/ankle may also help optimize body mechanics when: 2,3
- Landing from a jump
- Stair Climbing
The Calf Muscles
Gastrocnemius – This muscle originates just above the knee and crosses the knee until it runs into the Achilles tendon, ultimately inserting into the heel. The gastrocnemius (gastroc) crosses both the knee and ankle. To get a definitive idea if this muscle is tight, somebody experienced in goniometry would need to assess it.
Soleus – This muscle originates in the lower leg. It does not cross the knee, and together with the gastroc forms the Achilles tendon inserting into the heel.
Testing for Tightness4
In order to test for a lack of ankle mobility or tightness of the soleus, position the foot perpendicular to a wall:
- Lunge knee towards wall keeping heel on the ground
- Progressively move the foot back and re-test
- When the foot has reached a maximal distance from the wall, measure the distance without lifting the heel from the ground.
- Measure from the big toe to the wall
If the test is less than 11cm (~4.5 in) the ankle is generally thought to be lacking mobility.2 Variations in what constitutes “stiff” may occur if the person is rather tall or short.
What to do with this information
If you are healthy and have decreased mobility of the ankles, it may be beneficial to perform the test for sets of ten seconds, holding each repetition for 5-10 seconds. Typically, people report a sensation of stiffness of the ankle or stretching in the back of the calf. If you experience pain with this exercise, consult a healthcare professional.
Static calf stretching is also very beneficial for improving ankle mobility and flexibility.