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?


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