First the good news – no bone spur. Which means no surgery in my future.
The bad? According to my physical therapist, my calf muscle is “one big knotted ball.” Which means it can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months to fix…depending on how I respond to therapy.
I learned the calf is made up of 2 muscles, the gastrocnemius (upper calf) and the soleus (lower calf). My issue is the gastrocnemius is overly tight and, as a result of that tightness, shortened.
The gastrocnemius is so tight that I’ve lost a lot of mobility in my left foot. My therapist had me sit on a table with my legs straight out and tested how far my foot moved as I stretched my toes towards my body. Normal mobility is between 12-20 degrees.
My right foot is 15 degrees. The left? Four degrees.
The left foot can no longer handle stairs. This explains why on 3 different occasions I nearly fell down the stairs at my home over the last month.
My range of mobility is shot. And that means my exercise routine is has to change or I run the risk of rupturing my Achilles tendon. So that means I’m limited to:
- Strength training (avoiding deep squats)
Yoga is going to be more important than ever now. Not only will it help stretch out the calf, but it will help with balance. My left ankle isn’t very stable right now.
Daily Routine & Special Gear
For the last 6 months I was doing the soleus stretch every morning. That’s where I stand with my left foot (the problem child) back, keep my heels on the floor and lean into a wall with both knees bent.
Turns out, the muscle that is causing the problem wasn’t getting stretched.
My therapist is adding the Gastroc Stretch to my daily routine. It’s the same move As the Soleus Stretch but I have to keep my left leg straight. The only way to stretch the gastrocnemius is by keeping the knee extended fully.
Previously I stretched the first thing in the morning and only for about 30 seconds. Now, I need to do both the Soleus and Gastroc stretches 3 times a day. Each time have to do each stretch 3 times. And hold each stretch for 60-second.
I can’t even make it to the 3rd rep for each session. During the second rep of the Gastroc stretch, I’m lucky if I can hold the pose for 20 seconds. The pain is that intense.
2. Balance Exercise
On top of those stretches I also have to balance on my left foot for 30 seconds (3 times a set, 3 sets a day).
So far I can last for about 7 seconds before touching the wall so I don’t fall over.
I am a hot mess.
3. Deep Tissue Massage
Massage works hand in hand with the stretches. When my therapist first started massaging the calf, applying gentle pressure, I knew I was in trouble.
I can’t believe how much it hurt. But I have to say I felt some relief afterwards for a few hours. Because of where the knot is, I’ll need to have someone massage the calf for me. So in addition to my therapist, I plan to visit a sports massage therapist once a week.
4. Fire & Ice
After every workout or extended times I’m on my feet, I need to ice my Achilles tendon and wrap my calf in a heating pad. The ice helps take down the swelling of my Achilles and the heat helps my calf muscle relax.
5. Wear Strasburg Sock To Bed
It’s normal to have “ballet” feet (toes pointed downward) while we sleep. It’s just how our bodies relax. The problem for me is my calf muscle is contracting too much when I sleep. So that means I have to wear a special sock when I sleep.
The sock essentially keeps my lower leg in the Gastroc Stretch while I sleep, stretching out the calf.
The sock has a strap attached to the toes. The strap is pulled (so the toes are pulled ½ inch towards my body) and attached to the calf.
Yeah, I’m not sure about that one. But my trainer recommends that I try using it in the evenings first – when I’m sitting, legs up, in my La-Z-Boy. Then start moving toward sleeping with it a few hours a night.
Not great for a recovering insomniac, but walking without pain is more important right now.
Making Sure It Never Comes Back
My Achilles problem flared up in 2014. I thought resting my ankle took care of the problem. Turns out I didn’t deal with the root cause.
So now it’s time to tackle this once and for all. I can’t do all of my stretches right now, but eventually I’ll be able to. The keys are consistency and persistence. Sure none of this is comfortable, but the alternative – doing nothing — is worse.
I don’t care if this takes weeks or months. It’s time to finally nip this in the bud.