The calf muscle known medically as the gastrocnemius is located in the back of the lower leg and is responsible for planter flexion of the foot (pushing foot away from the body). As well as this there is also another muscle that lays flat underneath the gastrocnemius called the soleus. A pulled calf muscle occurs when too much load is placed through the calf complex and causes an overstretched of the fibers causing tears within them.
Calf strain symptoms are based on the severity of damage to the muscle. You may feel:
- Mild swelling
- Inability to stand up on balls of feet (toes)
A mild strain to the calf will normally present with pain and feeling of tightness in the lower part of your leg although you should still be able to walk mostly pain free with occasional discomfort. With a more severe strain you may find that you have sharp pain with very limited mobility swelling and bruising and may a feel or a pop or pull at the time of injury.
Calf injuries are most often cause by the push of motion during running. A quick burst of speed or a fast push off motion to change direction. The sudden movement causes the calf to stretch and contract beyond its capacity therefore causes an overstretch (tear) that can happen with an acute nature (suddenly) or overtime (overuse).
How to prevent calf injuries
Most calf injuries occur during sports activities. If you have ever had a previous calf injury you must take care in prevention of a repeat of the injury. When doing sport activities, you must try to:
Warm up correctly – Before high intensity gradually 5-10mins walking or cycling
Avoid activities too intense for your individual fitness levels.
Cool down and stretch- After any workout or exercises gradually cool down with 5 minutes of light jogging, walking or cycling and 5 minutes of stretching.
Most calf injuries should show improvement within a few days from when the injury occurred. If you feel you may have damage to tour calf you should:
Rest for at least 2 days
- You should only return to normally activities if your calf has no pain when walking or any swelling present.
Ice and cold packs
- You should use ice packs over your injured calf (not directly to the skin) for a maximum of 15 miniutes at a time several times a day to aim to reduce swelling. This should be used for the first 3 days if you still have swelling.
- You should apply compression bandage to help reduce swelling. You should try and avoid tying it too tight as this will cause more swelling to arise below the current injury. A sign that the bandage is to tight may be tingling, pins and needles, increased pain or cold feeling.
Over the counter medication
- Unless otherwise instructed to do so you can take over the encounter NSAIDs to assist with the reduction of swelling and pain.
If your symptoms don’t improve within a few days of injury you should seek medical attention, is it is likely you may have a more severe injury to your calf that needs a correct diagnosis and rehabilitation plan.