The calf muscle is comprised of two muscles; the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These two muscle converge to form the Achilles tendon which inserts into the base of the heel.
The calf muscle is one of the most commonly ‘torn’ or ‘strained’ muscles. This occurs when the muscle is forcibly stretched beyond its limits resulting in tearing of some of the muscle fibres.
- Sudden stiffness, cramping or pain felt in the calf muscle
- Stretching of the calf elicits pain
- Trying to rise onto your toes (calf contraction) elicits pain
- In more severe cases there may be inability to continue with activity and inability to weight bear on the affected side.
- Tenderness over the site of the tear
- Bruising around and below the site of the tear
A calf tear or strain can be diagnosed by an experienced physiotherapist. Tears are graded from 1 to 3 depending on their severity.
Grade 1: Sensation of tightness or cramping within the calf. Slight pain is often elicited with both stretch and contraction of the muscle. (Approximately 2-4 week injury)
Grade 2: Immediate sharp pain resulting in inability to continue with activity. The calf is often tender to the touch over the damaged area and there may be bruising below the site in the days following. Contraction and stretch will elicit pain. (Approximately 6-8 week injury)
Grade 3: Severe pain. The patient is often not able to move without pain. There can be a visible bulge where the bulk of the muscle fibres have separated from each other. (Approximately 12-16 week injury unless surgical intervention required)
The grading is usually based on assessment of function post injury. Further investigation such as an ultrasound or MRI may be required in more severe cases.
Physiotherapy is a vital tool in the diagnosis, management and rehabilitation of calf injuries. Initial care of a calf strain (in the first 24-48 hours) should follow the RICER method
R = REST, I = ICE, C = COMPRESSION, E = ELEVATION, R = REFERRAL (see your physiotherapist for an accurate diagnosis)
Muscle strains / tears are notorious for re-occurring if they are not rehabilitated properly prior to returning to exercise and sport. Physiotherapy treatment may involve the following:
- Soft tissue massage to assist with swelling control and associated muscle spasm
- Electrophysical therapy for short term pain relief and swelling control
- Appropriate strengthening and stretching exercises that will be progressed through the course of your rehabilitation
- Advice regarding footwear, activity and return to activity / sport
- Dry needling / acupuncture
If any of this sounds familiar and you would like to make an appointment please contact us on 9328 3822. Ross and Emma specialise in the treatment of sports and musculoskeletal injuries.