Does calf stretching increase ankle dorsiflexion range of motion? A systematic review.

Here is a big topic. Everyone seems to think that stretching makes a big difference, truth is it makes a difference, but it is not big. But is “some” enough ?

The topic comes up in a range we really feel is important, ankle dorsiflexion range.  You hear us talk about it all the time as “ankle rocker”.  The facts are that you need 100+ degrees of ankle dorsiflexion range to achieve normal biomechanics across the ankle ankle  in walking, and near 115 degrees for running (put another way, 10degrees past 90degrees vertical for walking and 25degrees past vertical for running, ref. T. Michaud). 

If you do not have these ranges then you must compromise normal biomechanics.  This is where functional pathology starts, ie. injuries.

This study found the following:

The meta-analyses showed that calf muscle stretching increases ankle dorsiflexion after stretching for

< or = 15 minutes (WMD 2.07 degrees; 95% confidence interval 0.86 to 3.27),

> 15-30 minutes (WMD 3.03 degrees; 95% confidence interval 0.31 to 5.75), and

> 30 minutes (WMD 2.49 degrees; 95% confidence interval 0.16 to 4.82).

So, what does this mean ?

Well, upon initial impressions it seems that none of them gained more than 3 degrees of dorsiflexion range, even after 30 minutes of stretching.  The study suggested that these numbers according to research stats, were “statistically significant”.

But in our mind, if you have 90 degrees range, a “statistically significant” loss in our opinion, then gaining another 3 degrees (ok, lets jump the moon and assume you stretched for 60 minutes and achieved 5degrees)…..well, you are still not at 100 degrees and have to compromise normal mechanics which could mean injury.

Bottom line, you have to find another way to get this range back, stretching is not going to float your boat the whole way.  This is why we like the shuffle walks (as seen on our YouTube videos) to engage and strengthen the anterior compartment.  This strength will help to reflexively release the tight posterior compartment.   You cannot have a relatively normal lengthened posterior compartment if the anterior team is insufficiently strong. 

The Gait Guys