A calf muscle strain is a partial or complete tear of the small fibers of the muscles. The calf muscles are located in the back of your lower leg.
A calf muscle strain can be caused by:
Factors that increase your chance of developing a calf muscle strain:
Symptoms may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Most calf muscle strains can be diagnosed with a physical exam. Your doctor may want images of the area if severe damage is suspected. Images may be taken with MRI or ultrasound.
Muscle strains are graded according to their severity:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of your injury. Treatment steps may include:
Your muscle will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on these muscles:
Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:
Compression can help prevent more swelling. Your doctor may recommend an elastic compression bandage around your calf. Be careful not to wrap the bandage too tight.
Elevation can also help keep swelling down. Keep your leg higher than your heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours or so. A couple of days of elevation might be recommended for severe strains.
Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may then be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.
When the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat six times. Stretch several times a day.
Begin strengthening exercises for your muscles as recommended.
You may be referred to for physical therapy
If you are diagnosed with a calf muscle strain, follow your doctor's instructions .
To reduce the chance of calf muscle strain:
American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor
American Council on Exercise
Armfield DR. Sports-related muscle injury in the lower extremity. Clin Sports Med. 2006;25(4):803-42.
Calf strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated November 3, 2012. Accessed April 26, 2013
Campbell JT. Posterior calf injury. Foot Ankle Clin. 2009 Dec;14(4):761-771.
Douis H, Gillett M, et al. Imaging in the diagnosis, prognostication, and management of lower limb muscle injury. Semin Musculoskelet Radiol. 2011 Feb;15(1):27-41.
Johns Hopkins sports medicine patient guide to muscle strain. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsortho.org/muscle_strain.html. Accessed April 26, 2013.
Sprains, strains, and tears. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/sprains-st...ns-and-tears.pdf. Accessed April 26, 2013.
1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.