The calf is comprised of two major muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The gastrocnemius originates above the knee joint, while the soleus originates below the knee, both muscles insert onto the heel by the Achilles tendon.
A calf strain is an injury involving a tear to one or more of the calf muscles, at the back of the leg.
Calf strains commonly occur due to a sudden contraction of the calf muscles.
This often occurs during acceleration or sudden changes in direction, e.g. when accelerating from a stationary position, jumping or lunging forward.
Grades Of Calf Muscle Tear
A calf tear is graded by severity from Grade 1 to 3. Treatment, rehabilitation and recovery time will depend on the severity of the muscle strain.
Grade I (mild)
A small number of micro tears occur in the calf muscle fibres as a result of mild overstretching.
You may experience sharp pain with injury, pain and a feeling of tightness during and after activity, and may be unable to continue with activity, there is little to no loss of function.
Recovery will generally take one to three weeks.
Grade II (moderate)
A partial tear occurs in a significant number of muscle fibres.
Sharp pain will be felt with injury, a popping/tearing sensation may be experienced, you will likely be unable to continue activity, will experience significant pain with walking and may have swelling and mild to moderate bruising in the calf.
Recovery will generally take four to six weeks.
Grade III (severe)
A complete tear or rupture of the muscle fibres.
Immediate severe pain will be felt with injury, a popping/tearing sensation will likely be experienced, you will be unable to continue with activity and may experience considerable swelling and bruising.
Surgery may be required.
Recovery can vary and take months, including 6 months following surgery.
Immediate treatment aims to reduce swelling and further damage and should consist of the RICE protocol:
Physiotherapy will aim to reduce pain, restore length and strength and graduate return to sport and activity. Physiotherapy treatment may include:
- Supportive taping and strapping
- Dry needling
- Stretching exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Balance exercises
- Return to sport
- Prevention of reinjury
Exercises will be carefully progressed by your physiotherapist based on your individual recovery and progress. It is important not to attempt to progress too early as this may lead to reinjury and a prolonged recovery time.
Exercises You Can Complete at Home
Passive Calf Stretch
Wrap a towel or band around the ball of your foot.
Gently pull, keeping your knee straight.
You should feel a light stretch in the back of your lower leg.
Raise your heels off the grounf so that you’re on your tiptoes.
Hold the position for a seconds.
Lower your heels to the ground.