physical therapy tight calves

What’s the cost of tight calves? You probably haven’t given this question much thought, but with the variety of issues having tight calf muscles can give you, the answer can be “quite a bit.” Tight calves can cost you anything from: a good night’s sleep, to not being able to keep up with your kids, to having to sit out from a rec league game you love playing in. It can even keep you from hitting your personal bests. You see, having tight calves may not directly impact your wallet, but it can affect those things in life you care about most. This may seem a bit dramatic, but I see it everyday and people are always astonished at how quickly they are able to improve these things when they take proper care of their calves. Let’s take a look at how tight calves can affect a runner and a weightlifter.

A Runner With Tight Calves

For most runners, longevity is a big goal. They’d like to be able to continue running for as long as possible. For this reason being efficient and being able to run with the least amount of impact on the joints and muscles is of high priority. Each joint in our body relies on the joints next to it, it’s a concept called regional interdependence. The main role of the calf muscles in running is to absorb shock and then propel you forward. If your calf muscle is tight, one of two things happen. Either the shock absorption is completed through the calf in a shorter range of motion, or the load is passed up the chain to other joints to absorb. Not to get too complicated here but the formula W=Fxd comes to mind. “W” is the work your calf performs by absorbing “F” force through “d” distance. If your calf is to do the same amount of work in half the distance, the amount of force it absorbs doubles. Done so on a repeated basis, over time this will lead to calf muscle and achille’s tendonitis injury. If the force is passed up the chain, then it can easily lead to knee and hip injury as well.

A Weightlifter With Tight Calves

An important position to be able to get in for most weightlifting athletes is a squat. This is a complex position requiring mobility from head to toe. Having a lack of mobility in your calf or ankle musculature is a surefire way to end up with a squat that either favors one side of the body, or puts another joint at jeopardy. Your calf musculature plays a big role in how well your ankles bend to allow you to put your weight appropriately in your feet. If the ankles do not bend far enough forward, one of two things usually happens.

Compensation #1: Your weight stays too far back in your heels. Now a lot of your weight should be in your heels with a good squat, but more is not better in this case. When you are unable to get a good amount of weight to your forefoot due to tight calves, this can expose you to compensating to get weight forward elsewhere. It can lead to you rounding your back or pushing your shoulders too far out in front of you to provide the counterbalance. This can expose you to low back pain, shoulders pain, or neck pain.

Compensation #2: You turn your feet outwards and allow your arch to collapse into pronation. In this way you’re able to keep the issues in compensation #1 from happening, but you’ve introduced a new problem. Pronating your feet allows for increased load to be placed on your medial knee, exposing you to meniscus and ligament injury, as well as once again exposing your low back to increased load due to the mechanics it causes up the chain.

It’s easy to see once it’s drawn out how tight calves can lead to poor lifting mechanics or running mechanics and impact physical activity. They can also affect your sleep by making it difficult for blood to circulate and inducing cramps or a chronic lower leg fatigue feeling. To combat tight calves is surprisingly simple. Hydrate, foam roll, and stretch. Use this test to determine if you’re calves could use some work and then follow it up with our foam roll and calf stretching videos that you can find on our youtube channel!

If you or someone you know has been dealing with an ankle, hip, or knee injury it could be tight calves! If you just can’t seem to make any headway on your injury and are frustrated and looking for answers give us a call. We help athletes of all levels stay active and lead healthy lives every day and we would be thrilled to help you stay active.