The Effect of Stiff Feet, Ankles, and Calves on Knee Health

Knee pain can be a frustrating issue for an active person. While there is not a one size fits all approach to knee pain, there are common issues that are often present when the knee is in pain. One of these common issues is stiff feet, ankles, and/or tight calf muscles.

The feet, ankles, and calves muscles can become stiff for a number of reasons. A lifetime of wearing restrictive footwear or repeated ankle sprains can result in mobility restrictions.   Restrictions may be due to impingement of the joint itself or tension in the muscles surrounding the foot and ankle (gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneal, or tibialis muscles).

When there is an impingement of the ankle, a pinching sensation is felt in the front or inner part of the ankle. This might be noticeable with deep squats or kneeling positions. If the soft tissue is tight, that calves often feel restricted and are prone to cramping.  If there is stiffness at the foot development of bunions or calluses may develop.

When the foot, ankle, or calves are locked up, movement compensations occur. Typically, there is excessive pronation of the feet (collapse of the arch) and caving of the knees during squats or lunges. A toe-out “Donald duck” walking pattern may be observed.  When these compensations occur, additional stress is placed on the knee cap and may result in pain in the front of the knee.

Part of a knee examination should include an assessment of the foot, ankle, and claves.  If there is pain with flexing the foot or ankle, hands-on therapy of the joint and/or soft tissue can be effective for pain relief.

Once pain is under control, learning how to activate the muscles of the lower leg and restoring normal movement is important.  In addition, being able to coordinate the movement of the foot, knee, and hip muscles simultaneously is a prerequisite for a healthy knee.  Half kneeling ankle dorsiflexion, box ankle dorsiflexion, and full-range calf raise variations can be effective for muscle activation and coordinating movement.

If pain is under control and you have normalized movement, the next step is training movement patterns with good technique while creating tension at the foot, thigh, and hip muscles.  Some exercises at this stage might include the deadlift, step-up, split squat, squat, and lunge.

Most of the exercises mentioned above can be found in our video library.

When addressed with a specialized physical therapy program, restoring foot, ankle, and calf mobility and optimizing knee health is possible. However, ignoring pain and engaging in repetitive activity can create a more serious knee condition.  If you have concerns about foot, ankle, calf mobility, or knee health, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you.

We offer a free guide on relieving knee pain that can give you further insight into knee problems and help kickstart your recovery.

If you want help, you can request a knee consultation with one of our specialists.  This is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your knee pain, and foster confidence that we can help you.  If you’re certain that we’re a good fit to work together, you can decide on the next step.

If you’re in pain but unsure about what you should do, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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