Everybody complains of tight calves, runners and non-runners, but nobody seems to be addressing the question why!
A few weeks ago I put this question into the Youtube search box. Normally you get hundreds of videos appear and indeed this time was no exception. However they were nearly all demonstrating stretches to ‘fix’ the problem, nobody was answering my question, why are they tight in the first place? It was just assumed it seemed that they would be tight and that you would just need a stretch to temporary relieve it. It was as if this was just the ‘normal’ human state.
So it got me thinking about what actually causes tight calves in the first place and whether tight hamstrings, Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fascitis and other issues might not all be part of the same problem that causes our calves to be tight.
Thinking about this, I decided that there were global and local causes and also short term and long term solutions. Of course most people are looking for a short term ‘fix’. Ideally they would like it to be fully addressing the problem but may not wish to make the global changes needed. This is what doctors and most therapists are therefore expected to provide.
So we see a proliferation of calf stretches on Youtube, providing nothing other than temporary relief, massage therapists will offer similar temporary quick fixes. This is, of course, also the best business model because the client will need to return!
But none of this is addressing the real causes, just dealing with symptoms. We all know that we can do a static stretch or get a massage and feel better for an hour or so perhaps, but the tightness of the muscle is only the symptom not the cause. We know that as soon as we return to our habitual postures and patterns the tightness will return. Yet nobody seems concerned about this. Like headache, backache, depression, knee pain, joint pain, etc. we are conditioned to think it’s a normal part of life.
But is it? We need to understand the wider reasons for our tight calves to find a long term solution perhaps?
Some of the environmental factors may include wearing shoes with heel drops, boots, flip flops, high heels etc. Nutrition as always plays a part – sticky tissues caused by excessive sugar consumption or dehydrated tissues will not be healthy tissues and will cause tightness and inflammation throughout the body. This is much less about ageing and far more about lifestyle choices.
Sitting too much and not sleeping well may also play a part.
Running long distances with poor elasticity in the connective tissue can cause tightness, especially when hills are involved. Running uphill forces you more up on your toes, stressing the calves more. Running in a very upright posture , poorly absorbing shock can also be an issue. We may be running long distances with pointed toes and not ‘kissing’ the heel to the ground, thus loading up the calf inappropriately.
It may be that all the connective tissue running up the front of the body (the Superficial Front Line) is overworked through all the flexion we do in modern life -especially excessive sitting and footwear. This will leave the back line tight and stretched out – including the calves. Ankles not able to dorsiflex and knees not able to flex is a combination that will encourage this tightness and poor absorption of ground reaction forces. This is no doubt responsible for the calf tightness of many runners, as well as their footwear and lack of elasticity in the tissues. Sitting also promotes a tilt forward of the pelvis and short hip flexors, feeding down into more tightness in the back line – hamstrings and calves having to work harder, especially with inactive glutes.
So there are probably local and global reasons for our calf tightness. Much depends on where are skeleton habitually resides in space. Compensations made by joints and spine to keep us functional enough to carry out our lives will be the main factor in causing tightness in the muscles; whether they are short and tight or long and tight makes little difference – they will still be tight. The only real solution to all of this I believe is to learn to be able to access a full range of motion through all our joints, in all planes, so we can then discover what is our real centre of mass. This may be not only the quickest genuine solution but also the longest lasting (provided we look also at lifestyle factors).
One thing is for sure – the hundreds of static calf stretches to ‘fix your tight calves’ which are offered will simply not ‘hold’ for long. As I’ve said many times, we need to begin addressing causes, not symptoms to effect real change.
Like to know more? Give David a call on 07504439555 or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org