Whether you’re a runner or a cyclist, or a mover or a shaker, calf tension can be debilitating. A constant pulling in the Achilles tendon that can really get in the way of exercise, life in general and therefore agency in life. If it’s left long enough, then as posted in one of my previous blogs, then simple muscle tension, if left un-treated, can turn into something quite nasty, such as tendinosis or even lead to a rupture. NOT what you want regardless of activity levels.
You’ve probably read plenty of blogs, articles and watched numerous videos on this kind of thing. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be searching the internet for something like this as a consumer without being in some kind of pain: Fear not, I have answers that can help infinitely!
Let’s take a look at the anatomy. You may not realise, but there are actually 26 joints in the foot. It’s been designed over millennia of human evolution to provide the ultimate, multi-terrain suspension mechanism. When these joints aren’t used properly, we begin to have problems.
Proprioception: It’s how you brain knows where your body is in space. It’s how we can touch our nose with our eyes closed (I see you trying it), It’s how we know that our finger is pointing up rather than down without looking. It’s the detailed map in the brain that is the SOMATO-SENSORY CORTEX *gasp* (what a name).
This wonderful map allows us to move as efficiently as possible without blindly contracting muscles and hoping for the best movement outcome. It also stops us from putting our body into a compromising position without being aware of it – so it’s quite useful…
So, when we spend 90% of our time in shoes that have “supportive arches”, “bouncy comfortable air soles” and “increased heel support”, naturally, the movement decreases in that foot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a nice pair of new trainers, but the reason they feel so comfy is because our foot literally does nothing when we wear them!
As we know, with support comes restriction. And thus, we have feet that don’t move – the modern foot is LAZY. The proprioceptive receptors are within the joint, it’s the movement through the joints that stimulates and creates the detail of the map in your brain. Therefore, if the joints aren’t used as they should be, the way your brain sees your foot changes.
Not only does this mean that the muscles then have to work harder to move what your brain thinks is a brick, but it also this constant tension can lead to further complications such as tenonitis and tendinosis or even rupture, (nightmare!)
So, I have two very simple concepts for you:
The plantar fascia is a thin membrane that lines the sole of the foot. This blends around the bottom of the heel into the attachment of the Achilles tendon to the heel. So, 2-dimensional therapy and rehab to the calf as its own entity is relatively wasted. You’ll get a short-term relief and a short-term mitigation of issues. However, with that Plantar Fascia constantly pulling away, you’re merely bailing out bath water without turning off the tap.
What’s also important to remember is that there are more than one set of muscles in the calf. It’s not just there to point your toes. Much like the forearm, all of the muscles that move the foot and toes are held in the lower portion of the leg. Long tendons that effect movement from a distance. Otherwise we’d have huge muscular feet – It’s these long tendons for our hands and feet that allows us to be dextrous.
So – there you have it. A brief explanation of the anatomy, and therefore the concept of a 3-dimensional approach to therapy and rehab in the calf. Who thought it would be so easy?! If you look after the Plantar fascia, the calf will be easier to deal will. The best four things you can do…?
Roll the soles of your feet out, massage your calf more often, balance on one foot and spend more time barefoot.
The first two allow you to directly treat the issue of tight calves. The second two allow better proprioception in the area, increasing the detail of that map in your brain and making the whole system function far better than you could ever imagine!
As always, if symptoms prevail then get yourself down to your friendly neighbourhood Osteopath!