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Written by Dr. Kristal Nelson PT

You go for every ball on the court, you play hard. When sore/tight calves are the result that’s ok, but when it begins to linger this is a warning. Never take it lightly. It’s time to take a look at some things to make sure you are not setting the stage for an Achilles tendon rupture, a devastating injury that can require surgery and take 9-12 months to rehab. So if this has happened to you or if you just want to know how to improve performance and avoid lower leg injury then read on…

Calf tightness

Achilles Tendon rupture most commonly occurs in young male patients 20-39 years old but the largest rise in incidence occurs in males and females between the ages of 40-59.  Playing sports is the most likely mechanism of injury.

Problem 1: THIS IS A BIG ONE – listen up! The most common problem related to the lower extremity is the lack of ankle dorsiflexion joint mobility. There is widespread consensus that restricted ankle dorsiflexion can be the cause of multiple orthopedic conditions such as Achilles injuries, knee pain, foot pain, and ACL tears. Here is how you can test your ankle mobility. 

  • Place your great toe 5 inches from the wall, hips face the wall. 
  • Bend your knee without allowing your heel to lift from the floor 
  • If you can touch the wall with your knee from 5 inches away, your mobility is good and you pass the test. 
  • If your heel does not touch the wall you have not passed the test and should determine where you feel it. 

During the test, if you feel tight in the front of the ankle, then you have ankle dorsiflexion joint restriction or stiffness. If you feel tight in the calf muscle, then you have muscle tightness (see Problem 2). 

Problem 2: Muscle tightness. Here is a quick anatomy lesson. The muscle transitions into the tendon. The tendon attaches to the bone. In the case of the calf muscle, two muscles come together to form the Achilles tendon – the gastroc and the soleus. The Achilles tendon attaches to the heel (calcaneus). The gastroc has a medial and lateral head that attaches to the femur as it crosses the knee joint – has a role in knee flexion and foot push off. The soleus attaches high on the tibia and fibula and the only job is foot push off. If you were limited in the test above and felt it in the muscle, this is the likely cause. 

Problem 3: The muscle is not strong enough for the requirements you demand. Can you do single-leg heel raises 30 times on each side and get all the way up (no cheating with pushing on a table or wall)? This is a basic strength requirement, tennis may require more depending on your level of play – but if you can’t do30 reps, then you certainly do not have enough strength to play at any level.

The feeling of tight calves can be a warning sign. Take these simple tests to get more information. The physical therapists at Back in Action offers free screens every week and would be happy to guide you. 

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