“In normal daily activities, the muscles of the foot and lower leg are used more extensively than any other muscles in the body. Though the musculature of the lower leg is substantially smaller than that of the upper leg, it essentially supports the whole body and receives the heaviest load during walking or standing.
As a result, many people have minor aches and pains in these muscles. Thus, at the end of the day people are ready to sit down and let these muscles rest. Stretching and strengthening these smaller muscle groups can alleviate some of the daily fatigue and pain. Stretching can also improve flexibility and stamina.
These improvements enable the muscle groups to work harder and longer throughout the day.
Soreness, tightness, cramping, restlessness, and weakness in the arch of the foot and calf muscles are common complaints among people. These problems often result from the continuous and heavy load put on the muscle. Chronic use of these muscles can also increase muscle tightness and soreness. Tightness then leads to conditions such as tendonitis and Shinsplints; tendonitis of the Achilles tendon is quite common. Tendonitis is associated with overuse and tightness of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. Shinsplints are associated with inflammation of the frontal compartment of the lower-leg muscles-anterior tibialis and, in some cases, soleus and flexor digitorum longus.
These conditions can become excruciating if not treated in the early stages. A variety of stretching and strengthening exercises in those muscle groups will, in most cases, improve these conditions (lessen the severity) and help prevent future episodes from occurring.
People often have delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, after participating in unusual or unfamiliar activities. Calf muscles tend to be affected by delayed-onset muscle soreness more often than any other muscle group in the body. Light stretching exercises help to improve this condition and relieve some of the pain associated with it. Stretching Anatomy- Arnold G. Nelson, Jouko Kokkonen 2007
Many factors contribute to joint and soft tissue injury. These include: Overuse, muscle tightness, a joint pushed beyond its range of motion, muscle weakness and bio-mechanical imbalance.
Reasons to Stretch
- Improve range of joint movement to reduce wear and tear. Stretching will help reduce muscle stiffness and by improving the amount of movement, may slow down the degeneration of the joints.
- Warm up muscles prior to exercise. Stretching prior to exercise helps prepare the body for the stress of exercise and allows muscles to soften in preparation for the impact they are about to undergo.
- Improves mechanical efficiency and overall functional performance of joints. A flexible joint moves more easily through a wider range of motion, creating more energy-efficient movements.
- Pre and post exercise stretching will help avoid the shortening and tightening effect and help reduce those post-workout aches and pains.
- Low Back Pain and Enhanced Posture. Stretching to improve flexibility of the hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles attached to the pelvis will help relieve stress on the lower spine. Stretching the muscles of the lower back, shoulders and chest will help keep your back in better alignment and improve your posture.
- The circulation of blood supply to muscles and joints will be enhanced by the process of stretching. .Tension in muscles reduces circulation and hence lowers its supply of available oxygen and essential nutrients. Stretching muscles reduces this tension and allows the muscles to relax.
- Stress management. Well-stretched muscles hold less tension and, therefore, leave you feeling less stressed.
Stretching as part of a treatment programme is recommended in the following conditions:
- Heel Pain/Plantar Fasciitis
- Aching, restless or cramping legs
- Shin Splints
- Achilles Tendonitis/ Bursitis
- Leg, knee and hip pain/ injury
- Ankle pain/injury
- Severs Disease
- Low back pain
- Post exercise aches and pains
- Promote circulation
3. Exercise Sheets
The following examples of stretches are a meant only as a guide. We recommend seeking professional advice before attempting any self treatment.
Stretching Your Feet
The muscles in your feet have a close relationship with those in your legs: Pain in the leg muscles makes it hard for foot muscles to (comfortably) do their job, and vice versa. Also, many stretching exercises benefit both the feet and the lower legs
Seated Toe Flexor Stretch
While sitting on a chair with the left foot on the floor, raise the right ankle and place it on top of the left knee.
Brace the right ankle with the right hand, and place the fingers of the left hand along the bottoms of the toes of the right foot with the fingers pointing in the same direction as the toes.
Use the fingers of the left hand to push the toes of the right foot toward the right knee.
Note: Make sure to stabilize the foot and ankle with a firm hold. Pushing hard on the very ends of the toes with the left palm will provide a much greater stretch. You will feel the stretch on the sole (plantar side) of the foot.
Seated Toe Flexor and Foot Inverter Stretch
While sitting on a chair with the left foot on the floor, raise the right ankle and place it on top of the left knee. Brace the right ankle with the left hand and place the fingers of the right hand perpendicular across the bottoms of the toes. Also place the pad of the right thumb on the ball of the right big toe. Use the fingers of the right hand to pull the toes of the right foot up toward the top of the foot. At the same time, use the right thumb to push the sole of the right foot down toward the floor.
Make sure to stabilize the foot and ankle with a firm hold. If you grasp the very ends of the toes and pull harder, then you will be able to stretch these muscles even farther. You will feel the stretch on the sole (plantar side) of the foot-the flexor digitorum brevis, flexor hallucis brevis, flexor digiti minimi brevis, and quadratus plantae muscles.
Seated Toe Extensor and Foot Everter Stretch
While sitting on a chair with the left foot on the floor, raise the right ankle and place it on top of the left knee. While bracing the right ankle with the right hand, place the thumb of the left hand along the ball of the right foot and place the fingers of the left hand across the top of the foot with the fingers perpendicular to the toes. Use the left hand to pull (or twist) the sole of the foot upward. At the same time, bend the toes toward the sole of the foot.
Make sure to stabilize the foot and ankle with a firm hold. Grasping the ends of the toes and pulling them upward (while keeping the toes in the flexed position) can produce a more effective stretch. You will feel the stretch on the lateral side of the foot (little toe side) and ankle area muscles.
Stand behind a chair with your left hand on the back of the chair to help you maintain your balance. Bend your right knee, raise your right foot up behind you, and grasp the right foot with your right hand. Gently pull upward on the foot until it reaches the buttocks. Hold it there for several seconds. You should feel a stretch in the large muscle at the front of your thigh. (Do not arch your back as you do this exercise.) Place your right foot back on the floor, and repeat the stretch with the left foot.
Stand in front of a stable chair and hold your arms straight out in front of you (parallel to the floor). Gradually begin to sit down — but stop before your buttocks touch the chair. Your weight should be on your heels; your arms should help you maintain your balance. Stand up again slowly and repeat. Rest, then do another two sets.
Sit on a chair and place your bare feet on the floor. Pretend you have a towel under your toes; draw the towel in toward your heels by scrunching your toes. Then reverse the exercise by using your toes to push the imaginary towel out and away from the heel. Do this ten times with each foot.
Sit on a chair and place your bare feet on the floor. Use the outer part of your foot to scoop the imaginary towel in toward your arches. Then use the inner part of your foot to smooth the towel back out. Do this ten times with each foot.
Tight calf muscles are common in most people, particularly with the constant wearing of high heels. Here is a basic calf muscle stretch:
- Sit with your feet our in front of you on the floor
- Hold a sheet or towel with one end in each hand forming a loop
- Place the loop around your foot
- Pull your toes toward you
- Stop when you feel a comfortable stretch in your calf muscle
- Hold for 20 seconds and repeat 10 more times
- Perform on opposite leg
Sit on the floor and place your legs out in front of you in a “V” shape. Turn your torso to the right and place your hands on the floor — one hand on either side of your right thigh. Roll your left hip and your left toes inward, so that the inside of your left foot is resting on the floor and the toes of your left foot are pointing toward your right leg. You should feel a stretch in the inner side of your left thigh. Release the stretch, and then repeat the exercise in the opposite direction, with your hands next to your left thigh and your torso turned to the left.
The Gastronemius muscle is the largest and most superficial of the calf muscles. It crosses the knee joint to attach to the Femur (thigh bone) and so to stretch the Gastrocnemius muscle, the knee must be straight. There are various ways of stretching this muscle, here are the two most common.
Gastrocnemius stretch with straight back knee
(Single plantar Flex Stretch)
The patient stands facing a wall with a wide stance and the leg to be stretched behind (image 1).
They keep the heel down and the knee straight as they lean forwards, using the wall for balance and something to push against. A gentle stretch should be felt in the back of the lower leg. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Gastrocnemius stretch with straight back knee
Stretch (Double Plantar Flex Stretch)
The patient stands on a step making sure there is something to hold on to (a wall or banister etc).
The toes should be positioned on the step, with the heel over the egde. The heel is slowly lowered, keeping the knee straight, until a stretch can be felt (image 2). Hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. This stretch can be performed both feet together to start with but is more effective performed one leg at a time.
Seated Shin Stretch
Stretching the muscles on the front of the lower leg can be difficult to achieve. The following are the two easiest ways of doing so.
Kneel down and sit on your heels.
Gently push down on the heels to stretch the front of the leg Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times. This stretch can be increased by stretching one leg at a time and gently pulling the knee up
Standing Shin Stretch
Stand with your toes of one foot on the floor on the outside of your other foot. Bend the weight bearing leg to push your other ankle towards the ground. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
To do this exercise while standing, hold onto a stationary object or wall for balance with one hand and use the opposite hand to grasp the leg around the ankle, lifting it toward your buttocks. Remember to keep your back straight and don’t allow the knee to move forward in front of the standing leg.
The best way to do this exercise is while lying on your back. Lie on your back, keeping the back flat and your eyes focused upward. Grasp the back of one thigh with both your hands and (leg bent) pull that thigh into a 90-degree position vs. the floor. Then slowly straighten your knee. After you’ve gotten used to doing this exercise, you can achieve a better stretch by pulling your thigh closer to your chest-but don’t overdo it!
The piriformis muscle is responsible for lateral rotation of the hip. It is particularly important in sports where direction changes are frequent, such as tennis. Regardless of sport though, flexibility of the piriformis muscle is important for overall flexibility.
Lying on your back, cross your legs just as you might while sitting in a chair. Grasping the “under” leg with both hands, pull the knee toward your chest until you feel the stretch in your buttocks and hips.
One-Leg Standing Hip Flexor and Knee Extensor Stretch
Stand upright with weight balanced on the left leg. Keep the left foot pointing straight forward and the knee almost straight. To help maintain balance, brace the left hand on a wall.
Bend the right knee; grasp the right foot or ankle tightly and pull the right heel backward and slightly upward to within 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) of the buttocks. At the same time, push the hips forward.
Commentary: When doing this stretch; be careful not to strain the knee structure by overflexing the knee. Pull the ankle slowly in a more backward than upward direction, making sure that the hips also move forward. In other words, concentrate more on doing hip extension than on doing knee flexion.
Seated Knee, Hip, Ankle, Shoulder, and Back Stretch
Sit comfortably on the floor with legs extended in a V position (feet far apart from each other).Keep both knees straight and as flat against the floor as possible. Slide the hands forward along the legs and bend the trunk over between the knees. At the same time, grasp the toes of both feet and pull them toward the body.
DON’T FORGET TO DO SOME UPPER BODY STRETCHES.
Links and book recommendations
- Stretching Anatomy- Arnold G. Nelson, Jouko Kokkonen
- The Foot Book: Dr Paul Conneely and Ms Donna Eddy. Available at: http://www.musmed.com.au/