Having tight calf muscles can have a profound effect on the biomechanics of the feet and ankles, leading to a limiting condition called ankle equinus.
Ankle equinus, commonly known as calf tightness, is characterised by limited flexibility in the ankle joint, particularly when trying to move the foot and toes upwards towards the shins. The term "equinus" actually originates from the Latin word for "horse," as affected individuals may exhibit a walking pattern similar to a horse as they don’t have a sufficient range of motion in the ankle. Ankle equinus is a relatively common condition that can affect people of all ages, from children to the elderly.
The primary symptom of ankle equinus is a restricted range of motion when trying to point the ankle upwards, which can make everyday activities like walking, running, or squatting difficult. Other effects of ankle equinus include:
Ankle equinus can result from several factors, with the most common being from tight calf muscles. Tight calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, which are located at the back of the lower leg and are responsible for pointing the foot downward (called plantarflexion) and pushing the body forward during walking or running. When these muscles become excessively tight, they can restrict the ankles ability to freely and easily point the toes upwards, leading to the condition known as ankle equinus.
The reason behind this muscle tightness can be congenital (present at birth), an inherited trait, or arise from circumstances like having their foot and ankle in a cast or regularly wearing high-heeled shoes.
Other causes of ankle equinus include structural abnormalities, where anatomical variations like bone spurs or joint contractures, limit ankle mobility. Neurological conditions can also contribute to an ankle equinus, such as nerve injuries or neuromuscular disorders that lead to muscle weakness, leaving a person without sufficient strength and function to point their toes upwards.
If you’re experiencing calf muscle tightness, there are several home remedies you can try that focus on stretching and strengthening the calf muscles to increase flexibility and help restore normal ankle movement. It’s important to note that these are most effective for mild cases of ankle equinus caused by calf muscle tightness, and it’s always important to seek professional help from your podiatrist to help resolve the issue. You can try:
Here at Matt Raden Podiatry, our trusted and experienced podiatrists listen to the concerns, goals and needs of our patients with ankle equinus, and utilise a range of evidence-based treatment methods to help you get the best outcome. Our goal is not only to make you comfortable now, but to understand the root of your foot and ankle problems so you can stay active and do the things you love without being held back by foot pain.
Every appointment starts with a comprehensive assessment to uncover the causes of your ankle equinus restrictions and the impact it is having on your gait, which includes analysing your gait, testing for muscle imbalances, assessing your joints, analysing your foot posture and alignment, and more. We’ll then create a tailored treatment plan based on your unique results that addresses the cause of your equinus. This may include:
In very few cases, where a conservative approach to managing ankle equinus has failed and it is having a significant impact on your mobility and quality of life, we may refer you to an orthopaedic surgeon to discuss the possibility of ankle surgery. This may involve lengthening the Achilles tendon, reconstructing the ankle, repairing damaged structures or treating a tarsal coalition, if that is the cause of the equinus. Ankle surgery is always a serious procedure and should generally only be attempted where first-line measures have failed or your condition is further complicated by other factors.
If you’re experiencing stiffness or tightness at the ankle, our team is here to help - and to ensure you have the best experience doing so. We’re proud to go above and beyond for our patients, focusing not only on managing your pain and symptoms, but helping you get the best long-term outcomes.