Calf and Ankle Pain

Every day I received messages on my forums and sometimes they are so important I like to share them with you.  Today I received the following message:
Last year due to busy schedule I could not make it to the gym as frequently. So instead I started walking to work (brisk walking, about 3.5 miles per hour in my dress shoes), about 40 minutes a day. This was around April / May. I also started climbing up to my apartment (about 5 floors). I also played a bit of tennis during the summer, just over the weekend. And would visit the gym 2-3 times a week. In September, I noticed a slight twinge of pain in the back of my right calf (right in the center, half way down the calf. Never enough to bother me, but I knew there was something there.

Over the months, I started noticing it more frequently. Sometimes that it would be twinge of pain for a few seconds while walking, sometimes a bit of tightening in the same spot. Also started noticing tightening on the inner and outer lower calf. Not quite the achilles, just above and around it. Again not painful, but more disconcerting. I continued walking, and sometime during the period also did a fair amount of walking on the treadmill with inclines up 6-7 levels walking at a pace of about 3.5 miles. The pain / tightening would almost never bother me while I was working out, so I never suspected that my exercising / walking had anything to do with the pain / tightening. The twinge of pain in the calf became more pronounced (may be 1-2 a week, and sometimes, would feel like my musccle tightened up in the mid calf for a quick second or so).

Finally, I made it to sports medicine doctor who diagnosed it as a calf strain from my walking on an incline (although I never had the oh-crap moment). I suggested some strengthening exercises, particularly single leg calf raises. I did those for 4-5 days consecutively, and on the 5th day as I was coming down on the calf raise, I could feel something in my right calf strain. So now I have the original issue of twinges of pain in the center of my calf and tightening at the bottom of the calf and a strained medial gastroc. This happened about a month ago. While I can walk normally, I know something is off. Not sure how much of it is my old issue, and how much of it is from the strained gastroc from calf raises. Had an MRI, which was normal.

So my current symptoms are. Twinges of pain in the center of my calf a few times a day (sometime when I am standing in a place for more than 5 minutes); tightness at the bottom of calves (not quite all the way to achilles, but around and above the Achilles, inside and outside lower calf), tightness (not quite a spasm, but hardening) at medial gastroc may be a 1-2 time during the day, very occasionally (may be 1-2 times a week, I feel some pain at the bottom of my feet in my arches. My calf is sore to touch (medial gastroc) and also just below the knee on the outside calf. I’ve tried to stretch my calf, used the rolling stick, tried to stretch my pirformis. Also working with a physiotherapest who helps me strengthen my ankle and calf muscles. Not much to report. Somedays, I feel better, other days I am conscious of the tightness of my calf and lower leg muscles.

My answer:

First of all, I strongly suggest you stop any strengthening exercises for your calf muscles. Your calf is not weak, it is actually having a repetitive strain injury from all the exercise (walking, etc.) and the muscle has shortened. Strengthening it only further shortens an already tight muscle and could ultimately cause you to tear your Achilles tendon (AT).

Do you already have my book, “Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living?”  If so, I suggest you do all of the treatments for your lower leg so you can release the tension and take the strain off your Achilles tendon.  Then, underneath your AT are two muscles called flexor digitorum longus and flexor hallicus longus. These muscles merge into tendons that insert into the bottom of your toes and when they contract they will cause your toes to press down into the floor (or just curl down if you aren’t standing).  Every time you take a step, especially when you are speed walking or running, you contract this muscle.  It keeps getting tighter and tighter, and then you try to stand on your toes and you overstretch a muscle that is severely contracted, again potentially tearing not only the muscle but the tendon.

Treating the spasms in the muscle BEFORE doing any type of stretching will release the tension. Stretching while you still have knots in the muscles will cause the fibers to overstretch and will potentially tear the muscles and tendons.

I believe you’ll get relief after you stop strengthening exercises and stop stretching the knotted muscles.

Wishing you well,


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