By Gavin Buehler, RMT
Disclaimer: Please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in any of the activities or suggestions that are highlighted in this article/video.
An issue that’s becoming more prevalent in my practice is lack of ankle mobility, particularly with dorsi flexion (foot flexes up toward shin). I’ll hear comments about how calves always feel tight even though the individual is always stretching them out. While the calves feel like they have an issue, the problem might stem from somewhere else. In a case where I hear comments such as above, looking at the body globally and assessing postural alignment can help find the source.
Two fairly common postural patterns that are just about guaranteed to produce limited ankle mobility as well as many other problems that I won’t dig into in this article are “sway back” and “hyper lordosis.” In both cases a dysfunction through the core triggers compensatory patterns in order for the body to keep balanced.
Sway Back – In the case of the sway back posture the pelvis shifts forward off the plumb line usually presenting with a posterior pelvic tilt and flattening of the lower back. There are many possible reasons for this that may include weakness in the transversus abdominis (TVA), imbalanced internal and external obliques, glute weakness, poor sequencing etc. But it’s the lack of support through the core that displaces the weight creating an “S” like posture when viewed from the side. With the pelvis shifting forward, the upper torso needs to shift back making the head shift forward. In the lower body knees will usually lock out in hyper extension and due to the angle that the weight is being driven through the tibia, a constant posterior glide at the talocrural joint (ankle) stresses the Achilles tendon.
Hyper Lordosis – With hyper lordosis a slightly different “S” like pattern forms as the pelvis dumps forward in an anterior tilt which tends to create a flatter upper back and exaggerates the arch in the low back shifting the torso forward off the plumb line. The weight displacement of the upper body causes the lower body to compensate by pushing the pelvis backward as well as the knees in a lockout position. As with the “Sway Back” posture, this places the tibia at an unfavorable angle to bear load through the ankle joint.
There are a number of other issues that are also formed with these postures, but since this article is about tight calves, I’m just going to highlight how they are affected. In both the sway back and hyper lordosis cases, these postures produce a constant stress on the calves through both the knee joint as well as the ankle joint. The calves are in a lengthened state crossing the knee and working hard to fight hyper extension and stabilize the joint. Through the ankle, because of the way the weight is being distributed through the tibia (lower leg) and the angle that it is forced to meet the talus (foot bone), they’re again stretched and working hard to combat the posterior glide and stabilize. The body’s nervous system will perceive these areas as being unstable causing the calf muscles to brace for stability making them tight. No amount of stretching will remedy this type of tension. In order for mobility to take place in any joint, there needs to be stability for your nervous system to allow the movement.
To address the constant tension through the calves, postural improvement is needed first to place the load of the body in an optimal position where the joints are stable. Improving the function of your core will generate the greatest success in these situations.
In this video I explain the compensatory patterns and offer a simple tool to help improve your posture.