Calf tightness and pain can be annoying and even debilitating for someone who loves activities or sports that require being on their feet. Many people assume calf tightness and pain to be emanating from their gastrocnemius, soleus and/or Achilles tendon, the known predominant features in the calf. This could be true but be forewarned, what lies beneath the main features can also be a major culprit, if not the guilty party. Say hello to the flexor hallucis longus (FHL). It is the largest and strongest deep muscle of the leg’s posterior section. The FHL originates just below the middle of the fibula (middle of the lower back leg), running down the leg across the side of the ankle, then along the plantar side of the foot inserting into the tip of the large toe (the distal phalanx). The FHL allows for flexion in the big toe, in addition to plantar flexion and inversion of the ankle joint. Anytime the toe is inhibited, injured, deformed, misaligned, or tight a person’s gait is compromised and thus the FHL is affected leading to calf tension. Many people’s FHL muscles are constricted without even knowing it, directly caused by their toe.
Questions to ponder whether your FHL has been compromised: Have you been wearing high heels, small shoes, or narrow width shoes? Do you have a bunion, hammer toe, arthritis, injury or bruise in your big toe? If so, you can potentially have a misalignment in your foot which will affect your calf and Flexor Hallucis Longus pain. This troubling symptom can lead to problems in the upper leg, pelvis and the lower back. Golden rule: if you cannot spread your toes out a little in your everyday shoes, they are too small. A little advice to all the high heeled lovers out there, wear them less… if at all. They are one of the silent killers of your body.
Simply put: Be good to your toes. Love them and play with them! There are various yoga tune-up exercises you can perform: Baddhakonasana with interlaced toes; Dandasana with ankles circles emphasizing opening the toes; Dandasana with eversion and inversion; Barbie doll feet; and Big toe/ little toe isolations. Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls can also do wonders on your feet and toes (try the YTU Quickfix DVD for Ankles/Feet). Lastly, while sleeping, why not put on toe separators. The whole idea around Yoga Tune Up® is learning how to proprioceptively map out your body, finding all the blind spots, lengthening and strengthening them; hence, gaining a balanced body. So, the next time you have calf pain, think about toeing in on it!
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