Updated: Aug 13, 2018
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO STRETCH?
As people age, their soft tissues (e.g. tendons, ligaments) become less elastic and tighten. This puts them at increased risk for developing injuries. Routine stretching can help regain flexibility and prevent future injuries. I also recommend calf-stretching exercises for children with tight calf muscles, as they can also often help with their own lower extremity pathology and pain.
WHEN TO STRETCH:
It is important to avoid stretching cold muscles, so before doing any of these exercises, it is recommended that you first warm up your muscles, even just by walking around for 5-10 minutes. If you experience post-static dyskinesia (pain with first steps after periods of rest, such after sleeping or sitting at a desk for a long period of time), move your feet and ankles around, as well as massage each, and then carefully try doing the exercises. If you exercise, or are involved in sports/athletics, it is also important to stretch after your activities.
If you are injured, make sure you are cleared by your healthcare professional prior to starting any exercise, or stretching, regimen. The below exercises are commonly recommended for conditions such as Achilles tendinitis (inflammation of the Achilles tendon), plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the ligament underneath the foot), equinus (tight calf muscles), and calcaneal apophysitis (inflammation of the heel growth plate region in children and early adolescence).
Wall Stretches – These are done while leaning against a wall. Place one foot in front of the other, keeping your heels on the ground and your feet pointing straight ahead.
For the first exercise, bend your front knee and keep your back leg and knee straight (see top picture at right). Lean into the wall by bringing your hips forward. You should feel a mild pulling (not painful) sensation along the back of the back leg. Hold this for 30 sec. Repeat 3 times and then switch legs.
For the second exercise, keeping the same position (feet straight ahead, heels down, and front knee bent), now bend the back knee (see bottom picture at right). Lean forward and hold this position for 30 sec. Repeat 3 times and then switch legs.
Step Stretches – Find a staircase or small step, where you can hold onto a railing for balance. Using both feet, place your heels off the step and slowly lower them, keeping your knees straight, until you feel a mild pulling (not painful) sensation along the back of the legs. Hold this for 30 sec. Repeat 3 times. Then, like the above exercise, you can bend your knees slightly and hold this position on the step for 30 sec, repeating 3 times.
Once you are comfortable with the above exercise, you can try doing single heel drops (see picture).
Towel Stretches – These exercises are done while seated on the ground (or while in bed).
For the first exercise, place a towel around your forefoot and while keeping your knee straight (see picture at right), slowly pull the towel towards your body until you feel a mild pulling (not painful sensation) along the back of your leg. Hold this for 30 sec. Repeat 3 times and switch legs to stretch the opposite calf muscles.
For the second exercise, bend the involved knee slightly (like you did with the wall & step stretches), then pull the towel towards you again and hold for 30 sec. Repeat 3 times and switch legs to stretch the opposite calf muscles.
Disclaimer: The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. If you have questions regarding your health, please consult your doctor.