Chiropractor Alex Horne discusses the use and function of tendons
Why do I say stop? Well, firstly, you’re potentially losing free energy which you could get from your muscles and tendons, and secondly, over stretching contracted and chronically tight muscles before or after training can damage them, especially at the origins and insertions where they attach to bones via tendons (more on this below).
When your foot strikes the floor, your tendons (the stringy fibrous bits at the ends of each muscle) begin to stretch under the downwards force your body is putting into them. Tendons are very resilient and elastic in nature, and this energy is stored and re-used naturally in the running cycle. As the same leg pushes off from the ground, the ‘spring’ like stored ‘free’ energy helps to push you off again.
Elastic energy can be stored by this means in a number of places, including the hip flexors, hamstrings and most noticeably in the lower limb and foot.
I have it on good authority that Tigger’s tail was made up of a helical array of tendons and cartilage [Pooh 1992], utilizing this exact mechanism!
Hip flexor tendons help to bring the back leg forward again (this effect has been shown to work with a treadmill in patients with one sided lower limb paralysis).
Hamstrings should maintain tonicity to counteract all muscles that tilt the pelvis forwards, such as the hip flexors and back extensors (strength also helps support the ACL).
The posterior calf muscles (gastrocnemius, solues, plantaris) make up the Achilles tendon, which joins (by means of fascia) to the plantar fascia, underlying the foot to the big toe.
You can think of this region almost like a bow and arrow. The two points where the tendons originate from, the musculotendinous junction of the calf and the MTP joint of the great toe (when flexed) act as the bow itself. The tendon, which will stretch like a bowstring when the ankle is loaded, will help to “fire” the calcaneal heel bone forwards, lifting it off the floor.
With regards to the ankle joint, there is currently conjecture about how much energy the Achilles tendon stores during running. Figures vary from 40/50% [SweatScience 2013] of force, to 2% [Fletcher tbp] when running, and between 34% [Fukashiro 1995] to 16% [Lichtwark and Wilson 2005] whilst single leg hopping.
The bulk of theoretical controversy regards which structure, tendon, or muscle the elastic recoil is actually coming from, rather than over its existence. Olympic sprinters and long distance runners, NFL players and other athletes (McGill 2011) benefit greatly from this tonicity, and a recent study investigating elite Vs recreational runners showed a significantly greater tone in Achilles tendons in the elite level athletes [Fletcher 2013].
The tricky part involves maintaining a balance between range of motion in your hip, knee and ankle, whilst preserving tone within the muscles and tendons themselves. Needless to say, muscle balances and symmetry must be taken into account when considering this balance.
For a full biomechanical check-up, detailing muscle imbalances and joint range, pop down to the club on Tuesday at 6pm, or make an appointment with Alex at the Prebend clinic on 020 7490 4042.
Training for the Marathon?
With less than 7 weeks to go until the London Marathon, don’t do another stretch until you’ve read what else our experts have to say!
- Ahmed Zambarakji, long distance runner and client of Tanya Fitzpatrick, Somatic Movement Educator, tells us what you can do instead to release the pain of chronically tight muscles, and
- Libby Limon, our Nutritionist, gives some great tips for ‘Nutrient Timing‘, because “it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat it” that gets results.