Calf anatomy includes several muscles and tendons that overlap and calf injuries not related to the Achilles tendon occur in both competitive and recreational athletes as well as people who engage in hard manual labor. The major calf muscles include gastrocnemius, soleus, popliteal and plantaris. Calf injuries are common sports such as football, basketball, tennis and hill running.
Forty to sixty-year-old males who are poorly conditioned are more likely to suffer from a calf injury than other individuals. The injury usually occurs after a sudden acceleration such as sprinting, jumping or running hills. Strains are also more likely to occur in fatigued muscles or muscles that are not properly warmed up.
A Gastrocnemius muscle strain typically occurs after a sudden push-off movement such as sprinting or jumping. You will feel a sudden tearing or popping sensation with calf pain. If you have injured this muscle, then you will have a difficult time walking and you will not be able to do a simple calf raise. If you have a severe tear you will have significant swelling and bruising as well. You can also feel a muscle deformity with this type of injury and it can take several weeks to heal.
If you strain your Plantaris then you have probably engaged in a rapid change of direction with a forceful push-off. This is a typical injury that can occur when playing basketball and using a pivoting motion or lunging over to reach a ball in tennis. Symptoms are similar to a Gastrocnemius strain but the pain is not as severe and does not last as long.
A Soleus strain occurs while the knee is in flexed. They are typical in runners and can occur while running uphill. The most common complaint in this type of strain is a deep calf soreness without a muscle defect that can be felt.
It is not necessary to obtain x-rays if you think you have a muscle strain. Ultrasound can help confirm a diagnosis but a history and physical exam is usually enough to diagnose an injury and begin treatment.
Initial treatment includes rest until you can walk without a limp. Severe pain may require a walking boot and crutches. Ice is also an important part of initial treatment as well as compression. Heel inserts can help with pain if you are able to walk without a limp. When pain has subsided a physical therapy program can be initiated to stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons.
At the Institute for Functional Health we can help diagnose and treat your pain. Our goal is to help you get back to the activity that you love. We can build a treatment plan made specifically for you and your injury to relieve your pain and get you back in the game.