Calf sprains in rugby, football and running are not uncommon and are normally present with a sudden stretch of the muscle. This can be either from changing direction, landing from a jump or sudden acceleration. The calf consists of three muscles located at the back of the lower leg. Its main function is flexing the ankle and it assists in bending the knee. These movements are necessary for running and weakness, fatigue or muscle imbalances may lead to injury.
The symptoms of a calf tear will be sudden onset of pain while running that is localised but soon becomes a general ache. Depending on the degree of tear, there may be visible bruising further down the leg and tenderness. Sleeping can be affected especially the first days after the injury due to the inflammation that accumulates while recovering. During the morning the feeling of stiffness may be experienced and it is normally painful when walking. The pain may range from mild ache to severe discomfort depending on the irritation of the underlying structures and your daily activities.
Examination will commonly reveal a tenderness on palpation of the affected leg, with or without bruising. There will be pain on functional activities and there may be complete loss of the ability to flex the ankle. A gap may be able to be palpated.
The management of a calf tear depends on the grade and activity level. In the older individual conservative treatment will normally be recommended, however in sporting individuals an operation may be required for an earlier return to sport. The management of both groups consists initially of relative rest, application of ice and compression. Following this a gradual loading program will be recommended by your physiotherapist in order to restore full capacity in the muscle and correct underlying weaknesses and muscle imbalances that are predisposing you to injury. Following a successful strengthening programme, sport-specific rehabilitation will follow with the aim of re-introduction to sport.