Calf strain results from too much stretching or tearing of any of the calf muscles causing pain and swelling. Your calf muscles are located at the back of your leg. Calf strains are often associated with playing sports where the calf muscles are forcefully shortened. The condition can also be caused by an overuse or repetitive injury. A calf strain is also called pulled calf.
Your Calf Muscles
You have two major calf muscles: the gastrocnemius and the soleus. Your gastrocnemius is the largest among your calf muscles and can be observed at the back of your leg. Your soleus is located in front of your gastrocnemius. Your calf help to raise your heel as you walk or run. They also allow you to walk on tiptoes. Your calf muscles are attached to your heel bone through a thick cord of tissue called the Achilles tendon.
Calf strain can occur when the muscle is stretched beyond its limit causing tears in the muscle fibers. It can happen in many sports activities that require sudden or forceful contraction (shortening) of the calf muscles. Examples of sports activities at risk for calf strain include
• Track and field sports (Sprinting / Long Jump / Hurdles)
• Racquet Sports (Tennis / Badminton)
Other causes of calf strains may include calf tightness, fatigue, overexertion and not stretching before a sports activity.
People who have had calf strains are at risk of future calf injuries.
Symptoms of a Calf Strain
Symptoms of calf strain depend on the severity of the injury. The most common symptom of a calf strain is pain. Sometimes, pain may be specifically located at the junction between the calf muscles and the Achilles tendon. Pain worsens when the injured muscle is used.
Other symptoms may include
• Tenderness in the calf
• Calf muscle stiffness
• Muscle weakness
• Bruising if small blood vessels are damaged
• A popping or snapping sound at the time of injury
• Difficulty walking
Minor calf strains can be effectively treated with rest, ice application, elevating your limb above the level of your heart and taking a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Physical therapy may also help you recover from the condition and safely return you to your previous sport or activity.
You may need to use crutches for a short period to avoid putting stress on your injured calf.
Moderate and severe calf strains should be looked at by a qualified health care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes, surgery may be necessary, especially if the injured muscle is completely torn.
Pulled Calf (February 2011). Physical Therapy (PT) Notes
Sprains and Strains (2010). Better Health Channel
Sprains and Strains (Aril 2009). National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases NIAMS