Exercises to Stretch Tight Heel Cords

Close up of two people's legs by the pool side
Close up of two pairs of feet laying at the pool (Image: XiXinXing/XiXinXing/Getty Images)

Your heel cords, or Achilles tendons, connect your lower calves to your heel bone and are made up of a strong, fibrous tissues that do not have much range of motion. Stretching your heel cords should improve their mobility without compromising their role to stabilize your joints. The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends that you work on ankle mobility in addition to stretching and strengthening your heel cords.

3D Calf Stretch

This exercise stretches your calves and heel cords together while moving your ankles and feet side to side. Place a foot-long half-foam roller about 2 feet away from a wall. Put the ball of the right foot on top of the roller with your right heel touching the ground and your left foot in the gap between the wall and the roller. Put your hands on the wall, and shift your weight slightly forward to your left foot and your right heel. Hold the stretch for three deep breaths. Then move your left foot across your body toward the right edge of the roller, and your right foot should naturally roll onto the outer edge of your foot. Hold this stretch for three deep breaths. Move your left foot toward the left edge of the roller, and your right foot should naturally roll onto the arch of your foot. Hold this stretch for three deep breaths. Repeat this exercise twice on each leg.

Standing Half Lunge

This exercise works on upper body and pelvic stability while moving your calves and heel cords. Stand with your left foot in front of you about 6 inches in front of your right toes. Keep your hands above your waist, and bend your legs as much as you can without lifting your heels off the ground or leaning forward. Hold the stretch for two seconds and stand back up. Perform 10 to 12 reps, switch leg position, and perform another 10 to 12 reps.

Step-downs

This exercise works on heel cord and calf mobility while stabilizing your torso and pelvis. It also works on calf and foot deceleration as you control the rate at which you step down. Stand on top of an aerobic step about 3 inches high. Step down with your right foot to the ground while keeping your left heel on the step. Keep your torso upright as you move. Hold the stretch for two to three seconds, and step back up to the step. Perform three sets of 10 reps per leg.

Warning

Because the heel cords lack as much elasticity as muscles and have less blood supply, do not overstretch them or cause them to lose their stability. This can lead to tearing of the heel cords and ankle instability, causing pain and faulty movement patterns, according to physical therapist Chris Frederick, co-author of "Stretch to Win."

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