Calf Strain

Calf Strain

Summary of Calf Strain

The calf muscles are those that run down the back of the leg below the knee. If they become too tight, it can result in calf strain.

Calf Strain FAQ's

There are two muscles in the calf – Gastrocnemius which attaches above and below the knee joint, and Soleus which attaches to the back of the shin. Together these form the achilles tendon. The calf muscles are mainly responsible for pointing your feet and toes away from your body, and become engaged in many movements such as running, walking, walking upstairs and extending onto your tiptoes. A calf strain indicates a tear in one or both of the calf muscles and is a common condition particularly among athletes.

Pain will be experienced down the front of the thigh where the quadricep muscles lie. This will be particularly prominent when walking uphill, running or standing up. As well as the pain, patients may experience a tightened sensation in the thigh. The following grading system distinguishes the symptoms felt in accordance with the severity of the injury:

Grade 1 – Mild discomfort that does not limit movement

Grade 2 – Uncomfortable, moderate swelling and bruising which affects movement in some activity

Grade 3 – Severe injury that causes pain when walking or moving and results in significant bruising

Pain will be experienced down the front of the thigh where the quadricep muscles lie. This will be particularly prominent when walking uphill, running or standing up. As well as the pain, patients may experience a tightened sensation in the thigh. The following grading system distinguishes the symptoms felt in accordance with the severity of the injury:

Grade 1 – Mild discomfort that does not limit movement

Grade 2 – Uncomfortable, moderate swelling and bruising which affects movement in some activity

Grade 3 – Severe injury that causes pain when walking or moving and results in significant bruising

If the tension in the calf muscle becomes excessive due to repetitive actions or overstretching, the calf muscles can tear. This tends to occur when the individual moves suddenly from a stationary position to that of extreme movement, such as playing tennis. Calf strain can also be caused by general wear and tear after engaging in activities such as distance running, if the correct stretches are not performed before and after each activity.

Experts use the following grading system when assessing a calf strain:

Grade 1 – a small number of muscle fibres become torn, but the patient can still function normally

Grade 2 – a significant number of fibres are torn and quality of movement is affected. This is the most common strain seen in quadriceps.

Grade 3 – the muscle is ruptured, resulting in loss of function.

Within the first 48-72 hours, clinicians will recommend performing RICE therapy from home – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. It is also important within this period to avoid HARM – Heat, Alcohol, Running and Massage.

After 72 hours we enter the rehabilitation stage of healing. In the first couple of weeks after the injury, the body will lay scar tissue over the tear – your clinician will recommend you apply gentle stress to the calf muscles through targeted stretches, to ensure a well aligned and uniform state of repair. If you don’t do this, the repair will be poor and this will result in prolonged pain and leave you prone to the injury reoccurring.

Exercise will be most important in treatment management, with gradual stretching developing into a gentle routine of movement and specific actions.

Heat treatment may also be recommended once the inflammation has died down, to improve the rate of healing. Ultrasound aids healing in a similar way, and a calf support will often be provided to support walking. Performing heel raises will also relieve tension from the calf muscles.

The exercises received in your recovery plan must be performed correctly and with the required frequency. Stretching is especially important in ensuring a strong repair of the calf muscles in their entirety.

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