Every day, people all over the world decide to better themselves by getting back into shape. Running is popular, because everyone knows how to do it and there is no equipment required. Unfortunately, many of these people will soon give up due to injuries of the lower leg. Poor flexibility in your ankles can lead to a calf strain, which is a nagging injury for any runner. Knowing how to properly warm-up and how to prevent injuries will keep you up and running.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a strain occurs when your muscles or tendons are stretched too far. In the case of your calf, strains can cause moderate to severe pain and swelling anywhere from your heel to the back of your knee. Strains can limit the range of motion of your calf muscle and you will most likely have to stop running as a result. "Musculoskeletal Medicine" recommends treating calf strains by resting the injured area for three to five days, icing the site of pain and swelling and wrapping the injured calf to provide compression.
Range of Motion
Your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles are designed to work together to allow optimum range of motion. When any of these structures are not working properly, you are likely to become injured. The "Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery" suggests that limited dorsiflexion -- the motion of pointing your toes toward the ceiling -- in your ankle predisposes you to injuries of the lower limbs. If you have limited dorsiflexion, you may need to see a physical therapist to receive manual therapy. If therapy is not necessary, there are simple home remedies you can do on your own.
Mobility vs. Flexibility
To determine your best course of treatment, you must first determine whether your limited dorsiflexion is caused by a limited range of motion in the calf muscle or the ankle joint. While sitting with both legs straight, loop a belt around the ball of your foot and pull back toward your body. If you feel tightness in your calf muscle, you need to focus on increasing your flexibility. If you do not feel calf tightness, but your ankle feels stuck, you need to improve your ankle mobility.
Ankle Mobility Exercises
Sports physical therapist Mike Reinold recommends a half-kneeling ankle mobility exercise to increase dorsiflexion. First, get into the half-kneeling position -- kneel on one knee, with your opposite foot on the floor in front you. Both of your knees should be at 90-degree angles. Face a wall and place your front foot about five inches away from the wall. Shift your weight forward, trying to push your knee past your toes to touch the wall. Do not push to the point of pain; gently rock back and forth. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg before exercising.
If you possess sufficient ankle mobility, but lack calf flexibility, make static stretching a habit. To stretch your gastroc, sit down with your leg in front. Keep your knee straight and loop a belt around the ball of your foot. Pull the belt back toward your body and hold. Researchers from Memorial University suggest holding static stretches for 30 seconds and completing three repetitions of each stretch. To stretch your soleus, bend the knee on the leg you are stretching and pull back, just as you did before. Static stretching should be done immediately after a workout when your muscles are warm.
- MayoClinic.com: Sprains and Strains
- Musculoskeletal Medicine: Gastrocnemius vs. Soleus Strain: How to Differentiate and Deal With Calf Muscle Injuries
- Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: Limited Dorsiﬂexion Predisposes to Injuries of the Ankle in Children
- MikeReinold.com: Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion
- RunnersWorld.com: How to Stretch Your Calf Muscles
- Journal of Sports Science and Medicine: Effects of Dynamic and Static Stretching Within General and Activity Specific Warm-Up Protocols
Kenneth Hutto is a personal trainer based in Portland, Maine. With extensive experience in corrective exercise, he worked with physical therapists to develop progressive exercise programs for a wide variety of patients.