What are calf muscle injuries

What are calf muscle injuries and how are they treated?

A calf injury occurs most often while exercising - when you're jumping, making a quick change of direction, or accelerating while running. Learn more about calf muscle injuries in the following article.

Last update: March 28, 2021

The calf is made up of two muscles - the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The calf muscles not only help flex the lower leg, but also play a role in fast movements such as jumping or short runs. Calf muscle injuries are sudden, serious injuries that may require medical attention.

Causes of calf muscle injuries

Calf muscle injuries are most common in exercise when you suddenly have to kick your foot quickly to accelerate. But they can also arise when jumping or a quick change of direction.

Such sudden movement can overload the calf and stretch it beyond its normal limits, which can lead to a rupture of the calf muscle. Sports like tennis or basketball are more likely to result in this type of injury.

When such an injury occurs, you may hear a snap or feel a tearing sensation in your calf. In addition, other symptoms may occur, such as:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Problems walking or putting weight on the injured leg

Symptoms of calf muscle injuries

Symptoms depend on the severity of the injury. With a simple strain, you can feel a strong pull in the lower leg. There may even be sharp pain.

A torn calf muscle, on the other hand, causes very severe pain and you can barely walk. A distinction is made between three degrees of injury.

1 degree

In the case of a first-degree strain, the muscle fibers can be micro-torn by up to 10%. Mild pain occurs in the back of the leg and near the heel. In this case, there is hardly any loss of strength or movement and it is possible to continue to do sports as usual.

Full recovery occurs within a few weeks of the injury. This depends on the percentage of fibers affected and the treatment.

2 degrees

A second degree strain is associated with greater damage and pain. This leads to a considerable loss of muscle strength and mobility. At the same time, the swelling is more pronounced and bruises quickly develop. In addition, there are restrictions on physical activity.

Experts see the gastrocnemius muscle as particularly at risk for a muscle tear. This is because it runs over the knees and ankles and has a high proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

3 degrees

In this case, there is a complete collapse of the muscles. Here the pain is very intense and the inflammation is strong and occurs suddenly. There is also a noticeable bulge in the calf as the broken part contracts.

A third-degree calf strain is characterized by the inability to walk. The muscle fibers can no longer come together. This situation requires an emergency response.

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Treatment of calf muscle injuries

The most effective treatment measures for torn calf muscles are summarized under the abbreviation PECH. That stands for:

  • Break
  • ice
  • Compression
  • Elevate

The first step is rest - the temporary interruption of all physical activity. The next step is to cool the injured area as soon as possible. This will help stop internal bleeding and reduce swelling.

It is advisable to start cooling for 10-15 minutes every hour and then reduce the frequency as the pain and swelling go down. Using a compression bandage to hold ice against the injury can help.

If you have a more severe tear, it is helpful to know which of the two calf muscles is most affected. Because of this, an ultrasound or MRI may be requiredto better determine the location and extent of the injury.

Third-degree strains, as well as some second-degree strains, require surgery to reconnect and repair the damaged muscle and tendon. In such a case, time is of the essence because the longer a muscle is torn and contracted, the harder it is to stretch it again and achieve adequate muscle tension.

In order to strengthen the muscle after the operation, the PECH rule and the specifications of the physiotherapist are implemented.

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