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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Prolonged Heat and Ice Stretching for Chronically Tight Achilles

This video for me introduces a very important stretching technique for the chronically tight muscle/tendon groups or the acutely tight post surgery, casting, burns, etc. The principle of Prolonged Heat Ice Stretching was first written up of post knee surgeries that left very tight quadriceps by the researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia. I have successfully used the technique to stretch out tight achilles/calf, hamstrings, and quads/patellar tendons.

The basic idea is to use heat to stretch the tendon, and while continuing to hold that stretch, ice is applied to physiologically freeze the tendon in this new position (resetting the golgi tendon organs within the muscle fibres). The art is to protect the other joints involved and find out how long each stretch should be held. The Temple Study used 30 minutes heat followed by 15 minutes ice (50% of the heat in terms of time), but even 10 minutes heat followed by 5 minutes of ice can be very useful. In fact, this is my starting point with patients when I introduce the technique.

The achilles/calf stretch demonstrated here can be done standing on a slant board for probably a deeper stretch (also ideal when stretching both sides at once), although getting the ice pack to stay in place can be a challenge. In the sitting position as the video demonstrates care must be taken to protect the back, elbows, shoulders, and knees. The patient is sitting with excellent back support, the towel must be long enough not to stress the shoulders and elbows, and a towel is rolled up and placed behind the knee to protect the knee from hyperextending. Listen to your body. If pain develops, stop immediately.

Achilles Stretch Weight Bearing with Ice in Place

Side View Achilles Stretch with Ice in Place on Slant Board
Patients arms are resting comfortably on a platform on table
Many doctors recommend surgically releasing tight tendons. This may be an excellent way to rehab and lengthen the tendon without surgery. It is important for the physician or therapist involved to measure the tendons periodically to see if the stretch is helpful. I usually supplement this stretch done 2 or 3 times per week with 3 times daily normal weight bearing achilles stretches with can be done in other posts on this blog.

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Thank you very much for leaving a comment. Due to my time restraints, some comments may not be answered.I will answer questions that I feel will help the community as a whole.. I can only answer medical questions in a general form. No specific answers can be given. Please consult a podiatrist, therapist, orthopedist, or sports medicine physician in your area for specific questions.