Brief Outline of Calf Strain
Failing to warm-up properly can lead to muscle strains. The calf muscles are used when taking off during a sprint, when jumping, changing directions, or when coming out of the bottom of a deep squat. These are usually explosive movements requiring forceful contractions of the calf muslces, which can lead to a muscle strain. Strains can result from incorrect foot positioning during an activity or an eccentric contraction beyond the strength level of the muscle.
Anatomy and physiology
The muscles of the calf include the gastrocnemius, plantaris, and soleus, known as the triceps surae. These muscles attach to the foot through the Achilles tendon. The popliteal fossa at the back of the knee is formed inferiorly by the bellies of gastrocnemius and plataris, laterally by the tendon of biceps femoris, and medially by the tendons of semimembranosus and semitendinosus. The calf muscles are responsible for extending the foot, and rising up on the toes. When taking off or changing direction, the calf muscle must contract forcefully. This contraction can cause tearing of the muscle at the attachment of the tendon. An eccentric contraction, a contraction while the muscle stretches, such as landing from a jump, can also cause a tear if the muscle is fatigued or not strong enough to handle it.
Cause of Calf Strain
Forceful contraction of the gastrocnemius or soleus muscle. Forceful eccentric contraction. Improper foot position when pushing off or landing.
Signs and symptoms
Pain in the calf muscle, usually mid-calf. Pain when standing on tiptoes, and sometimes pain when bending the knee. Swelling or bruising in the calf.
Complications if left unattended
Any strain left unattended can lead to a complete rupture. The calf muscle is used when standing and walking, so the pain could become disabling. A limp or change in gait due to this injury could lead to injury in other areas.
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Anti-inflammatory injection
- Shockwave therapy
Rehabilitation and prevention
As the pain subsides, a program of light stretching may help facilitate healing. When the pain has subsided, strengthening and stretching will help to prevent future injury. Proper warm-up before activities will help protect the muscle from tears. Strong flexible muscles resist strains better and recover more quickly.
Muscle strains, when treated properly with rest and therapy, seldom have any lingering effects. In very rare cases where the muscle detaches completely, surgery may be required to re-attach the muscle.