What is calf tightness? A tight calf can be related to a wide variety of problems within the foot, including plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinosis, stress fractures, forefoot pain (metatarsalgia) and ulceration.
How can a tight calf lead to problems in the foot? A tight calf tends to cause an increase in the pressure in balls of the feet and an increase in strain along the joints, ligaments and tendons of the foot and ankle.
The calf consist of two main muscle groups. The Soleus muscle originates from the back of the shin bones and inserts into the heel, it becomes tight when the ankle is bent backwards (dorsiflexed), the tightness is not affected by the knee as it arses below the knee. The Gastroc(nemius) muscles originate from the back of the thigh bone, above the knee. The gastrocs therefore become tight when the knee is straight and the ankle is bent backwards. Bending the knee relaxes the gastrocs.
How is calf tightness treated? A number of conditions might be helped by stretching the calf muscles, making them more flexible, this can usually be done with physiotherapy, but occasionally the muscles might need to be lengthened surgically. If the gastroc muscles are tight, they must be stretched with the knee straight!
Why do people develop calf tightness? There are lots of factors leading to calf tightness, it may be genetic (the way you are made!), sometimes it can be related to postural problems or imbalances further up the leg, or in the lower back, sometimes it is related to other conditions such as diabetes. If you are referred to a physiotherapist they may therefor give you exercises to stretch and strengthen many more areas than your calf.
There are two main muscle groups that make up the calf, the Soleus arises from the back of the shin bones, it therefore only crosses the ankle. The Gastrocnemius (gastrocs) actually arises above the knee and therefore is only tightened and stretched when the knee is straight. When a physiotherapist teaches you to stretch the calf with the knee straight, it is because they want you to stretch the gastrocs, which are often the tighter of the two muscles.