The calf muscle is found at the back of the lower leg and is comprised of three muscles: the plantaris, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. These 3 muscles are referred to as ‘the triceps surae’, and they attach to the Achilles tendon. They are responsible for plantar flexion (pointing your toes) and bending the leg at the knee joint. The soleus sits deep to the gastrocnemius, with the plantaris muscle and part of its tendon located between these two muscles.
A calf strain occurs as a result of these muscles being torn or pulled. There are three different degrees of calf strain: grade 1 is a mild strain (Recovery takes approximately 2 to 4 weeks if you do all the right things), grade 2 moderate to severe pain (Full recovery takes approximately 4 to 8 weeks with good rehabilitation) and a grade 3 strain is a complete rupture (Full recovery can take 3-4 months and, in some instances, surgery may be needed).
Insufficient warm up or cool down, tight and weak muscles or poor biomechanics are common causes of calf strain. A sudden change of direction, explosive movement or increase in speed can also result in the calf muscles becoming torn or strained.
This injury is often associated with a sudden sharp pain and potentially an audible “pop” in the lower leg; often people describe it as a sensation of being shot on the back of the lower leg. It is common that there is pain on resisted plantar flexion or when standing on pointed toes. On larger tears, bruising to the lower leg can be seen as a result of internal bleeding.
Treatment for Calf Muscle Strain
Physiotherapy treatment for patients with this condition is vital to hasten the healing process, ensure an optimal outcome and decrease the likelihood of injury recurrence. Treatment may comprise:
- Exercise programs to stretch, self treat and improve proprioception, balance and strength
- Biomechanical assessment
- Education / training advise/ phased return to exercise
- Activity modification advice
- Joint mobilisation
- Spinal and pelvic realignment
- Deep tissue massage/myofascial release
- Dry needling /acupuncture
- Orthotic/insole advice
- Ice or heat treatment
- Clinical Pilates