What are the calf muscles?
The calf muscles consist of the Gastrocnemius which is the big muscle at the back of the lower leg and the Soleus muscle which is a smaller muscle lower down in the leg and under the Gastrocnemius. Either of these two muscles can be strained (torn).
- A sudden pain at the back of the leg.
- Difficulty in contracting the muscle or standing on tip toe.
- Pain and swelling or bruising in the calf muscle.
- If the rupture is very bad you may feel a gap in the muscle
A sudden sharp pain in the calf muscle followed by difficulty using it usually a give away for a calf strain. The most common place to get this injury is at the muscle – tendon junction of the Gastrocnemius roughly half way between the knee and the heel. You can test for this by contracting the muscle against resistance with the legs straight. Pain is felt midway up the calf muscle.
If you have damaged the Soleus muscle you might get pain lower in the leg and also pain when you contract the muscle against resistance with the knee bent. The Gastrocnemius muscle originates above the knee and inserts via the Achilles tendon into the heal. The Soleus originates below the knee and also inserts via the Achilles tendon.
What can the athlete do?
- R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is essential. The sooner you do this the better.
- See a sports injury professional who can advise on treatment and rehabilitation.
- Wear a heel pad to raise the heel and shorten the calf muscle hence taking some of the strain off it.
What could a sports injury specialist do?
- Prescribe anti-inflammatory medication e.g. ibuprofen which is beneficial in the first few days after the injury.
- Use ultrasound treatment.
- Use a compression device.
- Use sports massage techniques after the initial acute phase.
- Prescribe a full rehabilitation program.
Once the initial healing has taken place it is essential the lower leg is fully strengthened in order to reduce the likelihood that the injury will nor reoccur or have an adverse effect on future performances.