Why do my calves and hamstrings get so tight?

The most commonly tight areas in the American population are the gastrocnemius and hamstring muscles, which run along the backside of your calf and thigh.  What’s interesting is that these muscles are tight in children, sedentary adults, high school athletes and ultra-marathoners.  It doesn’t seem to matter how “in-shape” you are — most of us get tight in this particular area.  Tightness in the calves and thighs have been linked to back, hip, knee, ankle and foot problems.  Because of this association, there has been a lot of research on why we tend to get tight in these muscles. 

The first cause that was discovered was that both the calf muscle and hamstring muscles are in a shortened position when we sit.  Since the hours that we sit has been increasing every decade here in the U.S., it makes sense that these muscles will get tight over time. 

A second cause of tight hamstrings and calves is that most people (including athletes) have very weak gluteus maximus (butt) muscles.  When you walk or run, your body should use the gluteus maximus to extend the leg backwards.  If this muscle is weak, your body will subsitute hamstring and calf muscles — causing them to be overused and become tightened.

Lastly, people who wear heels and/or cowboy boots overuse their hamstrings and calf muscles every time they take a step.  Over time, this also causes the muscles to be overused and become tightened.

Once your calves and hamstrings become tight, it is important to start stretching these muscles right away.  Research shows that if these muscles stay tight for 2 weeks or longer, manual therapy such as Graston Technique, Deep Tissue Massage or PIR assisted stretching along with therapeutic exercise is required to gain your flexibility again.  This is because the body will start to create adhesions or scar tissue in the overused muscle, stopping you from being able to stretch properly.

If you have back, thigh, knee, ankle or foot pain and think it may be coming from your tight hamstrings or calves, feel free to email me at drerin@ducatchiropractic.com and I’ll be glad to help you start on your journey to better flexibility.