Flexibility of the distal calf muscles is an important thing to develop and maintain. Having flexibility here allows for the ankle and foot to move (dorsiflex) correctly which is very important for overall structural health for the entire body. By learning how to stretch the muscles in this region we can enable that ability.
The major muscles that we are dealing with are the ones responsible for flexion of the ankle and toes. These muscles are Flexor Digitorum Longus, Flexor Hallucis Longus, Tibialis Posterior, and Soleus. You may wonder about the gastrocnemius which I have left out on purpose. Yes, it does flex the ankle. However, unlike the rest of the muscles listed, it has the unique anatomy of crossing the knee joint and the ankle joint (Yeah so does plantaris but who cares). This means that when the knee is straightened gastrocnemius is under tension, and limits the amount of dorsiflexion which can occur at the ankle. In other words, we will never be able to get enough dorsiflexion in the ankle joint to stretch the rest of the important muscles if we don’t eliminate gastrocnemius tension from our equation. This can be done by simply bending the knee when stretching the distal calf. This will take away any gastrocnemius tension which could limit the ability of the ankle to dorsiflex and increase our distal calf lengthening.
- Place your foot on the edge of a chair or bench with pressure placed on the forefoot.
- Stretch the distal calf by allowing your heal to drop toward the floor as you lean your body forward.
- To deepen the stretch, rest your elbow on your knee in order to use your body weight to force the heal downward.
- Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds in order to allow for maximum release.
Note: A Post Isometric Relaxation(PIR) is certainly a great tool in this circumstance to encourage more lengthening. Because of the chronic lack of ankle dorsiflexion in most people, multiple repetitions of a PIR will help break through some of the fascial barriers and help gain greater lengthening.
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