Monday, November 12, 2012

Tight Calves And The Pelvic Floor

For over a year now I’ve been studying with the Restorative Exericse Institute. Before I decided to go for the Whole Body Alignment course this Spring, I took the NoMoreKegels course which is all about pelvic floor health. I learned about the effect of our footwear and posture on the alignment of the pelvis and how this in turn effects the pelvic floor muscles. I also learned specific exercises to restore pelvic floor function. And one of the most fundamental of those restorative exercises is the calf stretch.

The CALF STRETCH? For my PELVIC FLOOR? Yep. It all begins with tight calf muscles. (Well, it all begins in the feet but that shall be another blog post.)

The calf muscle group is made up of the gastrocnemius, soleus and the plantaris. They all attach to the heel of our foot. The soleus attaches below the knee at the tibia. And the large gastrocnemius and the much much smaller, but oh so sensitive, plantaris attach above the knee at the femur.
Muscle always contracts from attachment point to attachment point. Which means that what goes on with the attachment points, i.e. how the bones are aligned, matters a great deal to what goes on with the muscle.

For example, when I wear a shoe with a positive heel, the natural heel of my foot where my calf muscles are attached to, is brought closer to the knee.
As a result the muscle is put in a shortened position. If the muscles are chronically held in this position because I’m in my positive heeled shoes all day, well, then they stay in this shortened position.

A chronically shortened muscle is a tight muscle. And a tight muscle isn’t very good at receiving or pumping blood and lymph and also doesn’t communicate well with the spinal cord. In short, a tight muscle isn‘t a strong, force generating muscle.

Another example is the posture of constant knee flexion. Check out any person running or walking on the street. They all have their knees bent. And then look at all the people sitting around. They also have their knees bent (surprise!).

Because the gastrocnemius and plantaris muscle attach above the knee, any kind of knee bending action puts slack in those muscles. Muscles can’t stay slack because then they have no force generating power so the muscle fibers simply adjust and shorten themselves. Now they can work again.  But because the knees are in flexion all day long (sitting, sleeping, walking with bent knees) the calf muscle is chronically shortened. And a short muscle is a tight muscle is a weak muscle  …

This constant knee flexion is one culprit for the pelvic floor problem. But to understand this, we have to welcome the hamstring group into the discussion.

The hamstring muscles all attach to the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) as well as to the pelvis. Knee flexion causes slack in the hamstring muscles. The hamstring muscles get short and tight. And these shortened hamstring muscles are pulling and tucking on the pelvis causing the pelvis to be out of neutral (posterior pelvic tilt). Which then in turn puts slack in all the pelvic floor muscles causing the pelvic floor muscle to adjust and shorten.

And a short, tight, weak pelvic floor muscle isn’t very good at holding up the pelvic organs. A short, tight, weak pelvic floor muscle is also not very good at expelling babies. WOW!

Soooooooooo, if you have plantar fasciitis or heel pain or crampy, tingly, tired legs or knee pain or pelvic pain or if  you are leaking urine when doing jumping jacks or you have back pain or you were told you have have a hypertonic pelvic floor or prolapse or prostate problems, there are many things you can do right now to get better. Here are a few suggestions:

1) Stretch your calves and click this to read and see how.
2) Assess your shoe wear. If you wear really high heels, get into a smaller heel. And if you wear running shoes with a bit of a heel, consider getting a truly zero heel shoe. (Here is a list for minimal or ‚barefoot‘ shoes)
3)Increase barefoot time
4)Get out of the chair every 20 minutes and stretch your calves.
5)Get the Every Woman's Essential Body kit from the Restorative Exercise Institute (and I don't benefit from this recommendation in any way other than the fact that I was the source that led you to some amazing and cheap self help tools and knowledge)
6)You could even take the NoMoreKegels course yourself.
8)If you are in Ottawa, come to class or book a private session

PS: I can't let you go without saying this:
The abdominal muscles attach to the pelvis .... calf stretch anyone?


  1. So, I pee when I do jumping jacks (which sucks!) but I don't wear heels and spend most of my time barefoot. I also push out babies like a pro ;)

    I will stretch my calves more often. Do you think the fact that I am severely knock kneed and therefore all my muscles probably work slightly different than they ought to is a problem?

    1. That is 3:1 for the pelvic floor. But the jumping jack pee (hey, new twitter word for me) is not cool. Our body is so super complex and this was just one little post about the calves. The pelvic floor needs a counter pull from the gluteus and, yes, the locked knee cap is interferring because the quadriceps are overworking and pulling the knee cap up and inside. That can be changed. Practice dropping your knee caps down (if you can lift them up, they are already down) and keep them released when standing, ect.
      The knees need to be straight to release. And if you have a hard time doing it while standing, lean your butt against a wall with your legs infront of you and try again.

      And how awesome you are reading my super long blog posts.

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  2. I'm very excited about all of this. After YEARS of chiropractic that temporarily relieves my knee/hip/pelvic pain, I feel that I'm on the right track, but my sister Julie has been telling me about your work. I've had four children in 7 years (the first three within four years) and my once performance-worthy belly (I was a bellydancer!) now has a weird herniated bellybutton. Julie tells me you'll be able to help me with this! I'm spreading the word and we're hoping to get you to the Ottawa Valley to work with a group of us here! Will keep the calf-muscle stretches in mind...good thing to do with baby in the sling!

    1. Hello sister of Julie (I don't know your name). I see you on March 18! And in the meantime, do the calf stretch and I'm sure you'll report some improvements from just that!

  3. great post Kangaroo Fitness :) , I too am a fan of Katy's restorative institute and I'm surprised pelvic floor health isn't a more talked about issue.

    I find aligning my pelvic floor is a constant battle especially for someone with an office job, without my daily calf stretches and foam rolling my quads and stretching the psoas my pelvic floor easily pops out of alignment and I'm back in anterior pelvic tilt.

    you mention knee flexion causing posterior pelvic tilt but when I look around I notice most people walk around with anterior pelvic tilt with over lengthened/tight hamstrings which I believe is caused by constantly flexed quads overpowering our hamstrings and the act of sitting further loosening and weakening/lengthening the hamstrings.

    I also feel like when I sit I am in posterior tilt and when I stand I am in anterior tilt which makes me a little confused on how to tackle my situation, I am starting to babble a bit any thoughts would be appreciated :)

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  8. Worth noting that if you have trigger points in your calves you will never be able to stretch them properly. I am plagued with them and have chronic pain in the psoas, hamstrings and neck and shoulders on one side. Do trigger point massage first if you have them. Hope this helps someone.

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