The calf stretch is a very easy exercise with many benefits. It provides relief from the following ailments: heel spurs, pain and stiffness in the lower back (lumbar vertebrae 1 to 5), hernia, numbness, spasms and weakness of the lower limbs, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, headache , dizziness and a feeling of heaviness in the head. You can read about this and how to do the calf stretch in this article.
The calf stretch helps with heel spurs and increases your running stride
Heel spurs often involve calf muscles that are too short. By doing the calf stretch you immediately tackle the cause of heel spurs, the short calf muscles are gently stretched, causing less tension on the tendon plate. The calf stretch lengthens the muscles along the back of the legs and lets you feel how tension in your calves can potentially affect your entire body as you walk. The calf stretch can also increase your running stride.
Heel height has a strong influence on the calf muscles
The muscles in the calves are strongly affected by a raised heel of a shoe because they have to adapt immediately to any heel height. Wearing shoes with a raised heel has been shown to reduce 13% of the fibers in the lower leg in the long term. Therefore, try to lower the heel height in your shoes. If you are used to walking in heels, do not immediately switch to barefoot shoes, but first go for a lower model before eventually switching to a heelless shoe.
Calf stretching within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
From a TCM perspective, a number of acupuncture points on the bladder meridian are stimulated by the calf stretch. These are bladders 40, 55, 56, 57, 58 and 59. This means that the calf stretch can provide relief from the following ailments:
- Pain and stiffness in the lower back (lumbar vertebrae 1 to 5), a hernia, numbness, spasms and weakness of the lower limbs,
- Abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhoids,
- Headache, dizziness and a feeling of heaviness in the head.
How do you do the calf stretch?
For this exercise you will need the following:
- A large bath towel, folded and rolled
- A chair or wall for balance
Place the ball of one foot on the rolled up towel and slowly lower your heel toward the floor. Take a few seconds to straighten both legs, keeping the thigh muscles relaxed. Stay in this position for 4 breaths.
Once you get used to this position you can take a small step forward with the foot that is not on the rolled up towel.
Your body should be directly above your extended leg. If your body begins to lean forward or you need to bend a knee, slide the foot on the floor back a little until you can maintain the stretch without leaning forward or bending your knee. Remove your foot from the rolled up towel and repeat the exercise with the other foot.
Use a wall or chair if you feel unsteady.
Once you've done the calf stretch a few times, start paying attention to the placement of your hips. The weight of your pelvis should be vertically in a straight line above your ankle and knee. Maintain this hip position while moving the foot that is on the floor further forward.
Attitudes to watch out for
If your torso leans forward as you stretch, you have stepped too far forward. Shorten your stride until your body is vertical. Only increase the distance between your feet if you can maintain this vertical position.
Tips for the calf stretch
The thickness of your rolled towel makes this stretch more or less intense. If your ankles feel stiff, use a thinner towel or don't roll them up completely. If stretching on this low surface is still too intense, move your foot back a little to reduce the angle your ankle makes. If you want to make the calf stretch more intense, you can use a thicker or longer towel.
Why is this calf stretch so important?
Walking upright should be a smooth, controlled action that causes little tissue damage.
People have developed a falling rather than running habit that puts excessive stress on joints and bones.
The calf stretch is an easy way to measure how far you can take a step without being pulled back by your calf muscles. This stretch is also a great way to regain lengthening muscles that have been shortened by using shoes with a raised heel. The longer you have worn heels and the higher they are, the more challenging this stretch will be. Be patient and gentle with this intention. If you have had muscle shortening in your lower legs for a lifetime, you cannot reverse this in 30, 60 or even 90 days.
What can you do to increase the length of your calf muscles?
To increase the length of your calf muscles, in addition to the calf stretch, you can move to a lower heel and then to a heelless shoe. Consider barefoot shoes.
Also pay attention to the position of your hips and torso as you walk.
Good luck with the calf stretch, for more tips and help you can also go for a foot reflexology treatment.
- The Bladder Meridian. (nd). Retrieved August 20, 2018, from https://www.natural-health-zone.com/bladder-meridian.html
- Bowman, K. (2016). The Foot Gym. In K. Bowman (Ed.), Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief, The new Science of Healthy Feet (pp. 96–100). Dallas, Texas, USA: BenBella, Inc.
- Csapo, R., C. Maganaris, O. Seynnes, and M. Narici. 2010. On muscle, tendon and high heels. Journal of Experimental Biology 213:258288