Active individuals who partake in sports such as running, soccer, basketball, gymnastics and dancing are at increased risk of suffering from a calf strain. A calf strain is an injury to the muscles in the back of the lower leg. This can occur during hi-speed motions or forceful movements during running or jumping.
The muscles at the back of your lower leg are commonly called the calf. There are two major muscles that make up the calf; gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius originates above the knee and the soleus originates below the knee. Both of these muscles come together to form the Achilles tendon and attach to your heel bone. These muscles are active during many movements including walking, standing on your toes, pushing on the gas pedal during driving, and pointing your toes downward. A calf strain is caused when these muscles are overstretched, overused, or torn. This injury can happen suddenly or can be gradual breakdown of the muscles. Daily activities such as walking, running, or going up and down stairs can be painful.
Calf strains are graded by the amount of damage that occurs in the muscles:
Grade 1: Partial stretch or tear of the calf muscles. Your calf may be tender and painful, but everyday activities are usually not affected.
Grade 2: Moderate tear of the calf muscle with possible pulling or snapping sensation. Your calf will be painful, tender, and feel weak. You may also notice some bruising. Walking will be difficult.
Grade 3: Severe tear or stretch of the muscle with a possible full tear. You may feel or hear a popping sound during the injury. Bruising will occur and putting weight on your leg is very painful. Walking and going up and down stairs will be very difficult.
Your doctor may suggest an X-ray or MRI to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes.
- Sudden sharp pain or pulling sensation in the back of the lower leg.
- Difficult/unable to weight bear through the involved leg
- Swelling, tenderness, bruising of involved area
- Dent in the calf muscle for more severe sprains
- Difficulty walking, climbing stairs, running, jumping
- Throbbing pain or stiffness in the calf with rest
A calf strain usually happens when there is a forceful contraction of the calf muscle. This includes movements such as jumping, lunging forward, or attempting to accelerate from a still position. Calf strains can also occur due to overuse and gradual wear and tear. Certain factors can increase the risk for developing a calf strain such as decreased flexibility, poor training, calf weakness, poor running mechanics, inadequate warm up, and fatigue. Your physical therapist can address each of these issue in order to prevent another calf strain from reoccurring.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
Your therapist will create a plan of care that will help you achieve your goals, including a safe return to sports or daily activities. Initially, rest and protecting the area from further injury is recommended. Reduce activities that cause pain. Your doctor may recommend crutches or a walking boot to reduce further strain on the injured calf muscle while walking. Ice, elevation, and compression will help calm swelling and control pain. Your therapist will also use a variety of treatments to help reduce your pain and swelling. These treatments may include ice, heat, ultrasound, taping, gentle exercises, and hands on therapy. Once your calf injury calms down, treatment will include:
Exercises to Increase Motion
Gentle movement of your knee and ankle will help maintain your motion. Your therapist will carefully progress these movements with added resistance and stretching to help increase your ankle and knee flexibility.
Your therapist will prescribe appropriate exercises to help safely improve your leg strength without aggravating your symptoms.
Hands on Treatment
Your therapist will provide hands on treatment to decrease swelling, increase blood flow, and reduce tender areas that will allow proper healing to occur. Hands on treatment may also include therapist assisted stretching to improve your motion as well.
A home exercise program to help maintain what you have gained in therapy will be provided. Exercises to help strengthen and stretch the muscles around your lower leg and balance exercises will help prevent reinjury of the calf muscle.
To prevent a calf strain from occurring, make sure to participate in a proper warm-up before any intense activity. Gradually increase the intensity of your activity and avoid pushing yourself to hard too soon. Consistent strengthening, stretching, and foam rolling will help maintain good physical health. Be sure to wear proper shoes when participating in your sport or activities. Visit your therapist today if you are suffering from a calf strain or would like to learn more about preventing a calf injury. For more information on physical therapy services, visit www.totalperformancept.com.