The “calf muscle” usually refers to the large muscle on the back of the lower leg. It is called the gastrocnemius muscle and has two heads or areas of muscle bulk – medial and lateral.
Other muscles which comprise the ‘calf’ group include the soleus & plantaris muscles act more as stabilizers and function less significantly than the gastrocnemius in plantarflexion.
A muscular strain to the calf typically affects the gastrocnemius muscle. The points most prone to muscle strain include the medial head and musculotendinous junction.
Signs & Symptoms
Pain comes on suddenly and can prevent further participation immediately following injury.
Pain is likely to be evident on walking, push off, climbing and descending stairs, and rising onto the toes.
Presence of localised swelling and possible bruising to the area.
What Causes It?
Cramp or tightness are sometimes reported as precursor symptoms to a muscular strain.
A strain to the calf typically occurs from overload or excessive stretch to the muscle. Muscle strains can be categorized in to three gradesGrade I – damage to a few muscle fibers (<30%), localized pain, normal strengthGrade II – damage to more muscle fibers (30-80%), localized pain, swelling, and pain reproduction on power testing of the muscleGrade III – damage to >80% of fibers or complete rupture. Most commonly occurs at the musculotendinous junction.
How to Self Manage
Immediate treatment consists of the RICE protocol. See soft tissue healing and management.
How Physio Helps
Your physiotherapist should be able to assess your calf to determine whether it is strained, the location of the strain, and grade the strain in terms of severity.
Physiotherapy treatment will be aimed at reducing your pain, decreasing swelling and inflammation, improving your range of movement, and returning you to the activities you love.
Manual treatment may include, soft tissue massage, electrical physical agents such as ultrasound, prescription of necessary stretches and a progressive strengthening program.
An adequate rehabilitation program is essential to minimize the likelihood of re-injury.