A tight achilles tendon leads to a decrease in ankle extension and consequently a host of problems of the foot and ankle. When the achilles is tight, the foot is positioned in a downward attitude relative to the leg, and this position is referred to as “equinus” because it resembles the appearance of a horse’s foot. In addition to leading to a feeling of tightness and discomfort, an equinus deformity has been associated with flat feet, forefoot pain, foot ulcers, and a myriad of other foot and ankle pathologies.
There is an evolutionary reason for why so many of us have a stiff or tight calf. Because the ancestors of humans were quadrupeds, they walked on the ball of the forefoot with their heels elevated off of the ground. As these ancestral species developed a bipedal gait which resembles the way modern humans walk, their heels had to stretch down to meet the ground. This evolutionary process created tension on the achilles tendon, and many of us have unfortunately retained this stiffness in our calves.
Luckily, there are multiple ways to treat a tight achilles tendon. Stretching of the achilles is the first line of treatment. An at-home stretching regimen can allow the tendon to relax and eliminate tightness. Patients may also benefit from consultation with a physical therapist who can help stretch the calf and also use other modalities such as deep tissue massage and therapeutic ultrasound. A night splint is a static stretching device which patients can apply at home. These night splints which are dispensed in the office allow patients to stretch their achilles in the convenience of their home with no effort. In severe cases or in patients that do not respond to conservative treatments, surgery may be considered. An achilles tendon lengthening may be done at the level of the heel or leg depending on where the tightness originates
If you experience any tightness in your calf, you are not alone! This is a common issue, and you should not hesitate to seek consultation by one of the experts at Advanced Podiatry.