Asia Pacific Orthopaedic Association Meeting, Bangkok, September 2019September 23, 2019
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My doctor says I have tight calf muscles – why is that a problem?
Your calf muscles can get tight for a different number of reasons. The calf muscle complex is composed of two muscles which are the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles are always at work during activity and in particular with sport that necessitate ‘push-off’
If they lack their usual flexibility, the weight distribution across the ankle to the foot changes. It may also affect the pressure you are using for other parts of your body during movement. This may cause your foot, knee, and ankle to function abnormally. Eventually abnormal loading and weight distribution can result in corns, joint deformities and tightness across joint with limitation in movement.
Symptoms of tight calf muscles
The symptoms you will observe depends on the severity or cause. When your muscles feel cramped, you may experience some degree of discomfort varying to acute pain. After exercise or activity, you may also feel cramping, which lasts for a few minutes or more. There are other symptoms apart from cramping, and they are:
- Difficulty in standing on your tiptoes due to ‘ball of foot’ pain
- Severe pain, inflammation or bruising
- Intense pain in the back of your calf
- Sudden sharp pain behind your knee
- Inability to walk in severe cases
Causes of tight calf muscles
There are different causes of painful tight calves; they include:
- Genetics: Some people may experience tight calf muscles as a result of genetics. They can inherit abnormal shape or length of the calf muscle.
- Choice of footwear: Women who wear high-heeled shoes often are more prone to having tighter calf muscles
- Walking or running: If you are a runner, you are likely to experience tight calf muscles because, during this activity, your calf muscles worksrepetitively to stabilize the ankle and push-off during running.
- Inadequate Stretching: You may face the prospect of having tight calf muscles if you don’t stretch your calves properly before or after activity. Stretching after activity helps preserve the muscle length and resists a repeated cycle of contraction.
- Recumbent position : Desk job workers are possibly more likely to develop tight calf muscles and hamstrings
- Old muscle tear or tendonitis injuries
- Plantar fasciitis
- Flatfoot syndrome
- Peripheral vascular disease
Before you can undergo treatment for tight calf muscle pain, the causes must be first considered.
If your calf pain is as a result of overuse or injury, you can employ the PRICE method. PRICE stands for:
- Protection: the first step is to protect the affected area (ankle or calf) from getting worse by applying a cloth bandage or immobilizer and allowing the muscles to rest.
- Rest: Make sure to rest the calf muscle and control repetitive inflammation.
- Ice: Apply ice to the affected area for about 10-25 minutes to reduce swelling.
- Compression: Compress the affected area with a tight bandage to prevent further damage and swelling that may arise as a result of movement.
- Elevation: ensure a continuous raise of the injured area and support with a soft object like a pillow to promote circulate and prevent further swelling.
You can get temporary relief from calf pains by using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve)
It is essential to stretch your muscles before and after engaging in intense exercise. You can warm up by just walking before starting an activity. This can help to prevent tight calf muscles.
You can consult your doctor or physiotherapist before starting a stretching routine to know for sure if it won’t worsen your condition.
If your calf muscles are chronically tight, you can hire the services of a physical therapist. You are going to learn different kinds of customized stretches, exercises, and essential treatments that will help to improve the condition of your calf muscles.
You can also hire the services of a massage therapist to relieve calf pains. The therapist will use their hands to manipulate your body muscles and this helps to subside the pains.
Complications of tight calf muscles
You need to get treatment to prevent complications of tight calf muscles. You also need to quit or reduce activities that cause tight calf muscles to avoid aggravation of this condition.
Here are the complications that may happen due to a lack of treatment. They include:
- Recurrent calf cramps
- Forefoot overload syndrome with pain under the ball of the foot
- Plantar fasciitis
- Shin splints
You need to see your doctor or podiatrist when the treatments do not work for you.
Prevention of tight calf muscles
It is essential to stretch your calf muscles regularly to keep them loose and free of stress. To prevent tight calf muscles, you need to take note of the following:
- Be hydrated always: dehydration is one of the causes of tight calf muscles. To prevent this, you have to stay hydrated at all times throughout the day by drinking a lot of water.
- Ensure you wear proper footwear: Endeavour to get suitable footwear or shoes to provide adequate support for your muscles and joints. An insole may be required
- Put on compression sleeves: They are sock-like devices that help to promote smooth blood circulation to your muscles. They also help to relieve pain during mobility. K-taping is sometimes useful
- Make sure to warm up before and after activity: You can talk a walk for some minutes before stretching or exercise to ensure proper circulation of blood.
For a more expert opinion, please consult Dr. Gowreeson.