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Easy Achilles Tendon Stretches for Tight Calves

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT November 18, 2020 0 Comments

man stretching leg

When performed properly, Achilles tendon stretches can provide relief and even prevent more serious issues when managing tendonitis recovery. Since the Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body, it is subject to a lot of wear and tear. Knowing how to stretch the area for issues like Achilles tendinopathy or tendonitis is crucial to maintaining range of motion. Keep reading to learn how to stretch the Achilles tendon.

Simple Achilles Tendon Stretches

When you are stretching the Achilles tendon for stiffness and pain relief, there are three different primary areas to target: the soleus, gastrocnemius, and Achilles tendon itself. These stretches will address each of these primary problem areas.

If you are feeling unsure about where to even start with a stretching program, consult a physical therapist to get personalized recommendations that can expedite your recovery.

Standing Calf Stretch Lunge

Grab a chair or stand near the wall for balance. Put the leg you want to stretch behind you and get in a lunge stance with your back knee straight. Make sure your back foot is flat on the floor with the toes pointing forward and in alignment with the toes. Then, shift your weight into the front foot as you bend the front knee. As your back shin moves over your toes, you will feel a stretch in the back leg along the calf.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

To address the deeper calf muscle, the soleus, you will repeat the stretch with the back knee bent. You should feel this deeper into the muscle belly mid-calf. Make sure your toes stay pointing straight forward throughout.

Standing Wall Calf Stretch

Alternatively to lunging, you can also get in a good calf stretch by standing near a wall. While facing the wall, place your toes up on the wall and rest your heel on the ground. The higher you place your toes on the wall the stronger the stretch will be. Then, keep the knee straight as you shift your weight forward and bring your face and chest as close to the wall as you can tolerate. You can also place a foam roller on the floor against the wall and place your toes on the roller for a similar stretch without having your face so close to the wall.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets.

You can also get a similar stretch when using a step too. Stand on top of the step. Then, simply place the ball of your foot (or both feet) on the edge of the step and let the heel drop toward the floor until you feel a strong stretch.

Assisted Calf Stretches

Outside of traditional calf stretches, using tools like a calf stretcher or stretch strap can help achieve deeper more effective stretches. Check out these stretches from Physical Therapist, Dr. David Lee in the video below.

Calf Stretcher

Simply place your foot on top of the calf stretcher and gently rock back and forth to achieve a deep stretch that runs down the back of your calf and through the arch of your foot. This can be done sitting or standing. If standing, make sure to use the wall, a chair or counter top to safely balance.

Long Sitting Calf Stretch

Sit with your legs flat on the floor and stretched out in front of you while keeping good posture in the spine (no slouching). Grab a stretch strap and loop it around the ball of the foot. Pull the entire foot back toward your shin until a strong stretch is felt in the back of the calf. If you have tight hamstrings, you might feel this stretch throughout the back of the leg so modify as needed. Make sure to keep the knees straight to target the gastrocnemius for this stretch.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Additionally, to stretch the entire back of the leg at once. Lie on your back with your leg out straight in front of you and a stretching strap or belt looped around the ball of the foot again. Bring the entire leg up toward your chest to feel a stretch in the back of the thigh while repeating the same stretch in your ankle as you did above. Hold the stretch and breathe.

Standing Calf Stretcher

This one requires a calf stretcher. Standing near a wall or chair for balance, simply place the affected foot on the stretcher in a comfortable position. Shift your weight into the stretcher as you let the heel push down toward the ground and lift the toes up toward the ceiling. Stop when you feel a strong stretch. This move should be completely passive. To get deeper into the soleus, repeat with the knee bent. Keep good posture in the upper body and spine to avoid leaning or slouching.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 seconds on each leg.

Why is My Achilles Tendon So Tight?

Your calf muscles are the largest muscles in the lower leg. They help provide endurance, stability, and power to the ankle and foot; particularly when jumping, running, or walking. When the muscles and Achilles tendon experience overuse, it leads to swelling, tightness, and pain that leaves your lower leg tight and at risk for injury.

What Causes Achilles Tendonitis?

The Benefits of Stretching for Achilles Tendonitis

A good stretching routine addresses the two calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and soleus) and the Achilles tendon itself. Some of the great benefits of stretching include:

  • Improved tolerance for daily activities
  • Decreased pain and swelling
  • Quicker recovery secondary to an increase in blood circulation
  • Injury prevention
  • Improved ankle and foot mobility 
  • A goo warm-up for strengthening exercises
  • Better coordination for lower leg activities and ankle strengthening

Achilles tendon stretches are best used in conjunction with a full exercise program and other home treatment options.

How to Treat Achilles Tendon Injury

Tips for Your Achilles Stretches

Achilles tendon pain and stiffness can result from a lot of different issues. It’s worth seeing your doctor to rule out problems like a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis) or peripheral vascular disease. Other tips to optimize your stretches and minimize risk of further injury include:

  • Stay well hydrated to reduce the risk of calf cramps and poor tissue health
  • Pay close attention to any medications you are taking and their side effects- since they can affect foot and ankle health
  • Modify or avoid any aggravating movements or stretches
  • Never force a stretch- you should be able to relax and breathe with minimal pain
  • Stretching prior to and after higher-level activity is a great way to reduce injury risk
  • If you’re having trouble tolerating stretching, warm up the muscles with massage or heat first
  • Consider using tape to reduce tension on the Achilles tendon and promote better ankle/foot coordination 

Avoiding Injury With Stretching

Gentle stretches for the Achilles tendon can provide immediate relief of pain and stiffness from issues like Achilles tendinitis. It is a great pain relief tool to use throughout the day as needed. When it is paired with other treatment options for calf and Achilles pain, you will be able to return to your normal daily activities in no time. If you notice a change in symptoms or you can’t seem to get any relief, get in touch with your doctor for medical advice.

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/health/tight-ca lve s#stretches

https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/achilles-tendon-injury

Achilles Tendonitis Products

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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