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Improve your running technique with these simple calf and ankle exercises!

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | November 17th, 2022

At Shawe Physio, calf muscle tightness is the most common complaint we receive from runners. Shortened calf muscles can lead to a multitude of postural and movement compensations creating a steadily more complex case for us to unravel later down the line when these compensations also start causing pain. Research has shown that a lack of ankle mobility is correlated with an increased risk of low back pain and is associated with conditions such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, flat feet, inward-turning knees during running and having to lean the trunk excessively forward when squatting.

Improving calf flexibility / strength in a lengthened position allows your ankle and foot to move and be positioned optimally during daily activities. This includes absorbing impact from the ground when running and jumping and keeping the knee and hip joints in alignment during exercises such as squats and lunges. In addition, because the ankle can reach a full range of motion it aids in maintaining the optimal length of the lower extremity muscles across the knee and hip joint, which in turn increases our strength. Addressing tight calf muscles can be vital in improving your performance, whether you are a runner training in the gym or if you an athlete partaking in sport.

Step 1: Release

Using the foam roller or having a sports massage to release trigger points in the calf muscle is the ideal first step in returning optimal length to these muscles and improving the motion of the ankle joint. The first step in correcting this movement restriction is to use release techniques to address the over-activity in the short calf muscles. We use tools such as foam rollers and massage balls to identify small adhesions called trigger points within the muscle. People may know these as ‘knots’. These trigger points are areas in the muscle that feel tender and irritable when we apply pressure with a tool in those areas. They are small bundles of muscle fibers that have become contracted and act like roadblocks that hold the muscle in a shortened position. If we stretch a muscle without addressing those roadblocks, these trigger points will only pull the muscle back to a shortened position.

Important tip – Once you have located a tender area, hold this position in place until a reduction in discomfort is felt, typically 30-120 seconds. DO NOT roll back and forth over the area. The discomfort felt should be moderate at most.

Step 2: Stretch

The outside portion of the calf muscles is the most common region of tightness. Turn the feet slightly inwards so that your little toe points forward emphasising the stretch on the lateral fibers and the fibularis muscle. It is these two muscles that contribute to flat feet or fallen arches.

Each stretch should be held at the first point of “stretch” for approximately 30-120 seconds or until a reduction in discomfort is felt.

This stretch is perfect for anyone who has flat feet or notices their feet flatten and turn out when they walk, run, squat, climb or descend stairs and jump. Optimising the mobility and function of the ankle joint and foot position will significantly reduce the risk of injury and improve performance.

Step 3: Activate

The tibialis anterior, known as the ‘foot up muscle’ is a muscle just about everyone could do with strengthening. There are few muscles I can confidently say are underactive in most individuals, and this is always one of them. We all focus on getting stronger glutes, thighs and calves. No one cares about having powerful shin muscles. The tibialis anterior has a vital role in maintaining optimal mechanics of the lower extremity as it is essential to correct positioning of the foot and ankle and indirectly also the knee and hip joints.

The tibialis anterior decelerates the front of the foot when we take a step forward when walking or running. This deceleration allows the foot to absorb and mitigate against forces placed on the lower body when the foot strikes the ground and stops the foot from ‘slapping’ the floor. Another essential role that the tibialis anterior has is that it aids in turning the foot inwards and limits the amount of foot arch collapse that occurs when the foot contacts the floor during gait. Excessive rolling inward of the foot / arch, as well as heavier impact of the foot during activities such as running and sports dramatically increase the risk of injury to the joints of the lower body.

Whilst the content above focuses on some specific foot and ankle mobility and strength issues and includes a self-help guide for improving running, there are several other foot and ankle issues that can lead to:

  • Tight calves
  • Calf cramps
  • Flat feet
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles tendon pain
  • Big toe pain
  • Reoccurring ankle sprains or calf strains
  • Pinching at the front of the ankle

If you have any of these symptoms when running, we would advise a detailed assessment by our expert team of clinicians. We can diagnose and treat many of these conditions, enabling you to run easier and faster, and reduce the risk of future worsening of conditions.

To book your appointment, simply call  01992 451849 or email our admin team on reception@shawephysio.com.