Background: Calf muscle stretching programs are used to increase dorsiflexion range of motion at the ankle, yet the effects of the stretching programs on the passive properties of aged calf muscles and on standing and ambulatory function have not been studied. This initial study examined the effects of an eight-week stretching program on the passive-elastic properties of the calf muscles of older women and on selected functional activities.
Methods: Nineteen women aged 65-89 years with limited dorsiflexion range of motion first completed a timed agility course, a timed 10-m walk and a standing functional reach test. A dynamometer then moved the right ankle from plantarflexion to maximal dorsiflexion and back to plantarflexion at 5 deg s(-1) to measure calf muscle passive properties. The women were randomly assigned to a group that stretched three-times a week for eight-weeks (n=10) or to a control group (n=9) that did not. The tests were repeated after the stretching program.
Findings: The stretching group showed increased maximal dorsiflexion range of motion, passive resistive forces (Newtons [N]), and the absorbed and retained passive-elastic energy (deg N) (P<0.05). They also had decreased times for the agility course and the 10-m walk (P<0.05). The functional reach test did not change for either group.
Interpretation: The eight-week stretching program most likely increased the maximal length, length extensibility and passive resistive forces of the calf muscles. Adaptations of other ankle and leg structures also may have contributed. The passive adaptations were associated with enhanced performances of ambulatory functional activities.