Muscle Strain of the Calf

A strain in the calf muscles is an injury to the muscles in the back of the lower leg. It is a very common injury among athletes, especially runners. 

Muscle Strain of the Calf Anatomy

The calf muscle is actually made up of two separate muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscle. A strain in either of these muscles occurs when pieces of muscle fiber are torn to any degree. 

In the vast majority of muscle sprains, the muscle fibers will only be slightly torn, leaving most of the muscle intact. In the most severe cases, the muscle will tear completely, leaving the leg completely unusable.

Muscle Strain of the Calf Causes

A muscle strain in your calf will occur when the internal muscles are overstretched. 

Calf strains are most often caused by long term strain to the calf muscles, or from sudden overpulling. 

This can occur during stretching if you aren’t stretching correctly and stretch a muscle farther than it is meant to be stretched. It can also occur if you stretch a muscle too far before doing less advanced stretches to loosen the muscle up for these more advanced stretches. 

A muscle strain in the calf can also occur if you engage in intense exercise without stretching first.

Muscle Strain of the Calf Symptoms

Symptoms of a muscle strain in the calf vary widely based on the severity of the strain. You may still be able to walk with a mild strain, but it will most likely be uncomfortable and cause feelings of pulling in the lower half of the leg.

Other common signs of a muscle strain in the calf include:

  • Mild swelling
  • Redness
  • Bruising
  • Inability to stand up on the ball of your foot

A more severe strain will cause feelings of sharper pain or make you unable to walk. 

Muscle Strain of the Calf Diagnosis

When diagnosing a strain in the muscle of the calf, your doctor will usually ask questions about your symptoms, and your average level of activity. A simple symptom check is usually all that is needed for this, though X-rays or other imaging tests may be needed to ensure the calf pain is not the result of something more serious, like a blood clot.

It is important that potential calf strains be evaluated and diagnosed quickly because further exacerbation of the muscle could cause the strain to worsen.

Muscle Strain of the Calf Treatment

The overwhelming majority of calf strains are treated non-surgically. In some very rare cases where the muscle has ruptured completely, surgery can be performed to reattach the torn ends of the muscle. However, most calf strains heal very well with nonoperative treatments.

Some of the simple treatments that may help resolve the symptoms of your calf strain are:

  • Rest. As a general rule, you can engage in activities that do not aggravate your injury. If a certain activity is extremely painful to your calf, avoid it while allowing your muscles time to heal. This is the key to healing a calf strain effectively.
  • Calf muscle stretching. Some gentle stretching can be beneficial, so long as it is not painful. Stretching too much too soon after your injury can injure your calf muscle further.
  • Ice the injury. Apply ice to the injured area within 48 hours after the injury occurs, as well as after any physical activity. Ice will help stimulate blood flow to the injured area and promote healing.
  • Heat applications. Before any physical activity, it helps to heal the injured area to help loosen it, and prevent further strain.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications. Ibuprofen, Aleve, or Motrin can help relieve symptoms of pain and manage any inflammation. If these medications are started soon after the injury occurs, they are particularly effective.
  • Physical therapy. In physical therapy, you can learn various exercises that will speed up your recovery and prevent further injury. Some people also find therapeutic massages extremely helpful.

Muscle Strain of the Calf Recovery

The length of time you will need to recover will depend on the severity of the injury. Calf strains can heal completely in as little as seven days, but the most severe strains require three months to heal.

However, the most common type of calf strain is a grade II strain, which takes approximately six weeks to heal.

At SPORT, we will identify the source of your pain and then utilize state-of-the-art therapeutic techniques that focus on restoring your range of motion.

Depending on the specific condition and its severity, these treatment options may include physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, slings and supports, cortisone shots, or surgery.

If you have an acute or chronic foot or ankle injury that needs medical attention, call SPORT at (469) 200-2832 to arrange a consultation or you can request one online. Hurt today? We can arrange a same-day urgent care visit to ensure you get fast, effective relief.


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