Which Way’s the Beach, Bro?
We made it to June! Can you smell the summer warmth in the air? With the summer, comes dreams of sitting by the pool, going to the beach, outdoor hikes, and long bike rides. June also happens to be Men’s Health Month! The purpose is to create awareness of preventable health problems and injuries among men and boys and encourage them to seek regular medical advice and early treatment.
It is well established that males typically have less flexibility than females. Testosterone, a male sex hormone, plays a pivotal role in muscle size and flexibility. It increases the size and mass of muscles on the skeleton. This means that men are going to naturally be “tighter.” This muscle tightness and limited flexibility can lead to lack of normal range of motion at certain joints, inability of tendons to stretch to their full capacity, and lead to injury. Every year, as winter comes to an end, the weight room fills up with men dreaming of, and working toward, their perfect beach bodies. As your muscles get bulkier and more toned, the tendons attached to those muscles become less flexible.
In the lower extremity, the most common muscle tightness that we see is in the calf muscle. The calf is made up of 2 muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These muscles combine to form the Achilles tendon. This muscle group spans from above the knee, where the gastrocnemius starts, and ends at the Achilles insertion on the back of the heel bone. This muscle group controls almost all of the range of motion at the ankle and secondarily controls the motion of the foot. During walking, running or jumping, the calf muscle pulls the heel up to allow forward movement. As a foot and ankle specialist whose majority of the day is spent treating sports injuries, I can say that almost all of the injuries and chronic conditions that I treat stem from lack of flexibility in the calf and Achilles tendon.
When the calf and Achilles tendon are tight, motion at the ankle is restricted and it causes our foot to naturally compensate for this by overpronating. This leads to increased flexibility in the other small joints of the foot that shouldn’t normally have that amount of range of motion. If these compensations persist, it can lead to injury. The common injuries I see that stem from a tight calf and Achilles tendon in men and boys are:
- Calf strain
- Achilles tendinitis
- Peroneal tendinitis
- Plantar fasciitis
- Calcaneal apophysitis (Sever’s disease)
We are all victims of not taking enough time to stretch– but men especially. Stretching to maintain the flexibility in the joints and tendons is the key to preventing injuries. Stretching before, but more importantly, AFTER exercise can go a long way.
Shown below are my favorite stretching exercises to get into the habit of doing.
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