By Amanda Mazzocchi, NCTMB
Catalyst Sports and Injury Massage
Most foot and lower leg pain stretches result from a lack of balance between the musculature of the lower leg.
When one of the muscles is pulling harder than the others, pain and dysfunction result. There are four major players in this balance. The following are anatomical diagrams of the muscles, an explanation of their function, and a picture of a specific stretch for each. Following a consistent regimen of these stretches will significantly reduce symptoms of the following issues:
Plantar Fascitis, Achilles Tendonitis, Heel Pain, Calf Cramps, Shin Splints, Cramps in the Arches, and any other foot or lower leg pain.
Please note: One of the biggest culprits of the above symptoms is footwear, particularly summer footwear.
Any shoes that:
- Are not securely fastened all of the way around the foot and
- Have a sound arch support are very aggravating to the foot structure.
Loose-fitting shoes such as sandals and flip-flops cause the toes to grip the shoe with each step in order to keep it on. This causes a repetitive stress syndrome. A lack of arch support causes the musculature responsible for ankle stability to work overtime and causes inflammation and cramping.
All stretches should be held a minimum of 30 seconds.
Lower Leg and Foot Muscles
(click images to view larger image)
These muscles run down the outside of the leg starting at the knee and wrapping down behind the ankle and inserting finally in the arch at the base of the big toe. When it contracts, it creates “eversion”, an outward twist of the foot at the ankle. When the peroneals are constantly tight, they can cause a flattening of the arch.
To stretch the peroneals, simply do the opposite of eversion.
- Invert the foot and stand on the outer surface as shown
- You should feel the stretch running up the side of your leg
- Repeat with other leg
#2. Tibialis Anterior (Shin)
This muscle runs down the front of the lower leg starting under the knee on the outer side, then crossing over the foot to the inner side where it inserts in exactly the same spot as the peroneals—in the arch at the base of the big toe. These two work together and form a “stirrup”. They are your ankle stability muscles. If you are getting foot cramps, or are tender in your arches, then you probably need more stability in your footwear. Tibialis Anterior, when contracted, “dorsi flexes” your foot—or flexes your toes upward toward your knee.
In order to stretch your “tibs”, you must create a “plantar flexion”, or a stretch where the toes are pulled down away from the knee. Some people, particularly males, are inflexible enough in the ankles that simply kneeling on the feet with the ankles extended is a stretch.
Most, however, will need a little more leverage. To accomplish this, simply raise one knee up onto a surface such as a foam roller or a step, and then kneel back and place your seat on your heel.
You should feel a stretch in the shin and the top of your foot. Be careful not to let your ankle deviate outward—keep it square. Repeat with the other foot.
#3 Gastrocnemius (Upper Calf)
There are two major muscles that comprise the bulk of your calf muscle. They both come down and form the Achilles tendon at the lower end. They differ at the upper end however, and have to be stretched individually. Gastrocnemius has two head that attach on either side above your knee. The main function of the calf is “plantar flexion”—pointing the foot, but because gastroc attaches above the knee, it also assists in bending the knee.
In order to stretch Gastrocnemius, perform an Achilles stretch, such as the one against a wall with your knee straight. You should feel this in your upper calf. Repeat with other leg.
#4 Soleus (Lower Calf)
Soleus, the other calf muscle, attaches lower in the leg, and has no effect on the knee. It is a thick, powerful muscle whose only function is plantar flexion.
In order to stretch Soleus, perform an Achilles stretch, such as the one against a wall with your knee bent. You should feel a deep stretch low in your calf. Repeat with other leg.
This condition is inflammation of the fascia, or the tough web of connective tissue on the underside of the foot. Once you develop this painful condition, it can be a lengthy and aggravating process to get rid of it. Massage, of course, is extremely helpful.
Here are some other helpful hints:
Untuck the sheets at the foot of your bed and do not sleep with folded bedding or extra weight at the foot of your bed. The extra weight and restriction will keep your feet pointed and the fascia and musculature shortened as you sleep. You can also look into boots or socks available which keep your feet in dorsi flexion all night to encourage lengthening of the tissue. These can be found in the back of running magazines.
Use a golf/tennis/myfascial spike ball to break up adhesions on the soles of the feet.
If you are really brave, immersion in a bucket of ice water past the ankles is great to reduce inflammation.
Try this stretch:
Kneel on the floor and, one foot at a time, bend your toes back and slowly lower your weight onto your heel. Repeat with other foot.