Common Problems: Calf Strains
This month at Fine Form Physio we take a look at calf strain injury.
What is a Calf Strain Injury
A pulled calf muscle refers to a strain within one of the two muscles in the back of your lower leg (Gastrocnemius and Soleus). When a strain occurs, the muscle fibres that make up the muscle are torn to varying degrees depending on the severity of the injury. This is a very common injury and seen most frequently in sports which involve running, sudden acceleration and jumping/landing such as tennis, football, rugby, basketball, netball and athletics.
Signs & Symptoms
Symptoms of a pulled calf muscle can depend on the severity of the injury (ranging from grades 1-3)
Grade 1 (mild) = small micro-tears in the calf muscle fibres. Pain is relatively mild and you may walk with a slight limp. Full recovery typically takes 2-3 weeks.
Grade 2 (moderate) = Partial tearing of the muscle fibres. Often very painful on injury onset, significant swelling and delayed bruising. Unable to put weight through ball of foot when walking, therefore walking with hip turned out. Full recovery will usually take 6-8 weeks, with proper rehabilitation. Your physiotherapist will go through with you your full treatment plan to guide you back to prevent unnecessary delays in returning to normal function and sport.
Grade 3 (severe) = roughly 90% of the muscle fibres are completely torn or ruptured. Full recovery can take a long time and may require surgical review. Your physiotherapist will guide you through this.
How best to manage calf strains?
The immediate treatment of any soft tissue injury is the RICE protocol. RICE should be followed for the initial 48-72 hours post injury. The aim is to reduce bleeding and further damage to the muscle tissue.
REST: Place leg in a rested elevated position.
ICE: Apply to the calf area for 15-20 minutes every 2 hours
COMPRESSION: A correctly sized compression bandage should be applied to limit bleeding and swelling in the injured area
ELEVATION: Lying down with you calf resting comfortably on a pillow above the level of your heart.
Physiotherapy treatment will typically involve:
Soft tissue massage: The benefits of a soft tissue massage are they stimulate the blood flow, removal of scar tissue, stretching the muscle and releasing areas of spasm in the muscle.
Kinesio Taping: can be used to help support and take the strain of the injured muscle.
Strengthening: Strengthening exercises will allow much stronger muscle repair after injury and allow you to regain full strength in the calf to return to sport and prevent re-injury.
Stretching: Gentle stretching to help the muscle return to its original length is essential and goes a long way to preventing re-injury
Dry Needling: Like soft tissue massage, dry needling helps to stimulate blood flow and release tight spots in the muscle.
How to prevent torn calf muscle strains?
Dynamic stretching and adequate warm up of calf muscles before any physical activity
Wearing properly fitted footwear/insoles suitable for your chosen activity
Allowing recovery time between sport, training sessions and workouts
Drinking plenty of water during physical activity
Don't push through tightness or pain, stop immediately, these are usually warning signs
Stretch regularly to keep muscles flexible
Ensure strong calf muscles by performing regular heel raises (a good goal to aim for is 15 consecutive single leg heel raises)
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