Injury Tip Sheet: Calf Strain

Bryan Christie

Bryan Christie

Injury Tip Sheet: Calf Strain

Learn what you need to know to help treat and prevent this common leg injury.

Kathy Weber, M.D., M.S.
Daphne R. Scott, PT, Dsc
Chicago, IL

Fast facts

  • Strains and sprains are the most common causes of low back pain
  • Sprains and strains are the most common workplace injury in the United States
  • Symptoms and treatment for both strains and sprains are often the same

What you need to know

What is a calf strain?

  • The calf muscles form the Achilles tendon and attach to the heel and   help propel us forward with walking and running.  When standing still, the calf muscle allows us to rise up on to our toes. This muscle is particularly important during running and jumping activities.
  • The calf muscles are made of two major muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus.  A calf strain is when one of these muscles is stretched beyond its capacity or is partially torn.

 

Signs & symptoms

  • Pain or tightness in the calf muscle
  • Mild swelling, tenderness, and tightness in the calf
  • Pain that decreases with rest and increases with activity, especially when pushing off from the toes
  • In severe tears you may be able to hear a popping or tear

 

 

When should I see a doctor or other professional?

  • You should see a doctor when there is persist swelling, pain, dysfunction, or if a rash or fever develops
  • If the strain does not improve after a couple of weeks of self-treatment
  • Your physician may recommend immobilization for a short time period
  • Severe strains may require physical therapy and in very rare cases surgery

 

Causes

  • Overuse of the calf muscle without proper conditioning or recovery time
  • Sudden, explosive demands on the calf that may strain or tear the muscle such as when a sprinter leaves the starting block
  • In rare cases, strains can be caused by direct blows or trauma to the calf

 

Risk factors

  • Running on uneven ground or hills
  • Athletes who depend on large, explosive leg action such as hurdlers
  • Working out with inadequate cushioning and foot and arch support
  • People with any muscle imbalances or who have improper running mechanics

 

What you can do

Prevention

  • Stretch and warm up prior to exercising to loosen muscles
  • Returning to your sport after an injury: proper warm-up and cool-down including stretching and ice after workouts to help boost recovery
  • For women who often wear high heels, stretching is particularly important
  • Increase your workout intensity slowly and allow proper recovery time
  • Wear footwear that is appropriate   for the activity that you are participating in

 

Recommendations for treatment and rehab

  • Treatment for muscle strain includes RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
  • If appropriate, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication maybe helpful  to help reduce swelling and manage the pain
  • After the initial injury, typically a few days, the use of heat will help improve blood flow and relax the muscles.  Heat is not recommended immediately following a calf strain or tear
  • You can also wrap the calf in an ACE bandage for additional support but should not be wrapped too tightly to prevent blood flow or increase the risk of a blood clot.
  • Pain-free stretching the calf muscles regularly maintains muscle flexibility

 

What can I do to stay active?

  • Work with your physician on what activities you can and can not do during the healing process
  • Typically participate in activities that do not increase or reproduce the calf pain
  • Use of the stationary bike and swimming, only if pain-free, are all lower impact activities that can allow for exercise without aggravating the injury.
  • Higher impact activities such as running will need to be avoided until the calf injury has healed.  Returning to activity to soon increases risk for re-injury or worsening the injury (i.e. strain develops into a tear)

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1 Comment

  1. Dianeguma 7 years ago

    For many who are prone to getting injured, it is really highly recommended to prepare your entire body by working out. Even though you only commit ninety minutes of your time in performing exercises, injury may be shunned. I'm sorry if I am a little bit off topic here but I just want to stress this out, at any rate we're still preaching about injury after all.

    We more often than not suffer from different kinds of injuries as we move on with our every day routines. With a bit of preparations,however, all of us can verily get rid of them just before any depressing case reach on our home. One of those that we actually want is exercise. Exercise can in some way prevent an injurious upshot because when we exercise, our bones and tissues will not easily give up throughout a high pressure encounter.

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