by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit
Calf muscles are responsible for lifting the heel.
Muscle pulls and tears are a relatively common occurrence in the muscles of the calf, the gastronemius and the soleus.
A strained calf muscle is a partial tear of the small fibers of the calf muscles. The calf muscles are located in the back of your lower leg.
Pulls and tears occur when they are suddenly over-stretched. The degree of overstretching determines whether the muscle is pulled or torn.
A calf strain can be caused by:
•Stretching the calf muscles beyond the normal limits
•Suddenly stressing the calf muscles when they are not ready
•Using the calf muscles too much
•A direct blow to the calf muscles
Risk factors for calf muscle strain include:
• Tight calf muscles
• Cold weather
Certain sports that require bursts of speed are risk factors. These include:
o Long jump
Symptoms of calf muscle strain include:
•Pain and tenderness in the calf
•Stiffness in the calf
•Weakness in the calf muscles
•Pain with pushing off the foot or standing on tiptoes
•Popping sensation (with muscle tears)
Signs of calf strain:
•Tenderness and/or bruising in the calf muscles
•Pain when contracting the calf muscles
Muscle strains are graded according to their severity, with grade 1 being the least severe.
• Stretching with some microtearing of muscle fibers.
• Recovery can be complete in about 2-3 weeks.
• Partial tearing of muscle fibers.
• Recovery can take up to 1-2 months.
• Complete tearing (rupture) of muscle fibers.
• Complete recovery can take more than 3 months.
For a severe calf strain, professional and college athletes sometimes have MRI scans to help predict the length of their recovery period.
Treatment depends on the severity of the strain.
Treatment usually includes:
Rest – Do not do activities that cause pain, such as running, jumping, and weightlifting using the lower leg muscles. If normal walking hurts, shorten your stride. Do not play sports until the pain and local tenderness is gone.
Cold – Apply ice or a cold pack to the calf area for 15 to 20 minutes, 4 times a day, for several days after the injury. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin
Pain Relief Medications – Take aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help relieve pain. It is best to not take aspirin or ibuprofen during the first 24 hours if you have a lot of swelling because those meds interfere with the clotting mechanism. If you still have tenderness in the calf while taking these drugs, do not return to physical activity. Check with your doctor.
Compression – Wear an elastic compression bandage (e.g., Ace bandage) around your lower leg to prevent additional swelling. Wrap from the toes up the leg so as to not cause swelling below the wrapping. Be careful not to wrap the bandage too tightly.
Elevation – Keep your leg higher than your heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours to minimize swelling.
Heat – Do not use heat at all during the first 3 to 5 days. Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Then use it before stretching or getting ready to play sports.
Stretching – When the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended by a physical therapist. Two stretches are very popular. Calf stretches are best done with the wall push-up.
Stand about two feet away from a wall. Lean into the wall while keeping heels flat against the floor. This will cause a gentle stretch in the Achilles and calf. Hold it for 10-15 seconds then push back up to a straight position. Repeat. Once the muscle is adequately stretched, then it is time to strengthen it. This is accomplished with toe raises.
Stand on a step with the heels hanging over the edge. Gently raise up on the toes then lower the heels as far as they’ll go. Repeat.
Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat 6 times. Repeat stretches 4 to 6 times during the day.
Strengthening – Begin strengthening exercises for your calf muscles as recommended by a health care professional. This is very important to guard against further problems.
To reduce the chance that you will strain a calf muscle:
•Keep calf muscles strong so they can absorb the energy of sudden physical stress.
•After a short warm-up period, stretch out calf muscles before physical activity.
•Learn the proper technique for exercise and sporting activities. This will decrease stress on calf muscles.
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