You may not give them much thought, but your calf muscles are constantly working hard day-to-day when you’re walking around or exercising. This makes it really inconvenient - not to mention painful - when you strain a calf muscle. Muscle strains are a common reason our patients seek out osteopathic treatment. Read on to find out about the different causes and treatment options for calf injuries.
Calf anatomy facts
Before we dive into the injury, let’s take a moment to unpack the anatomy of the calf. Did you know that it is actually made up of three muscles? They are called the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris (we know… what a mouthful!). The gastrocnemius is a two-pronged muscle that runs from just above your knee down to your heel. It is the largest of the three and is vital to movement of the knee and the ankle. It is more commonly injured than the soleus, which lies underneath the gastrocnemius. The soleus is less powerful than the gastrocnemius, and mostly used for endurance (walking, jogging), as well as maintaining posture. The function of plantaris is predominately to aid in balance and coordinating of the lower leg and ankle.
What are the common causes of calf tightness and strain?
Our muscles lose flexibility as we age, making them more prone to injury. Short or tight calf muscles make you more susceptible to a strain, especially if you skip the warm-up before you start exercising. Participating in sports and activities like tennis, basketball, and football that involve sudden movements or changes in direction are common ways to strain a calf.
What are the symptoms of a strained calf muscle?
Calf strains are graded as mild (a minor strain), moderate (a partial muscle tear), or severe (a complete muscle tear).
Common symptoms of a strained calf muscle include:
Tenderness and pain in the area
Tightness and aching after exercise
Swelling and bruising of the muscle
Sharp pain or ‘popping’ during exercise
Pain when stretching the calf
With a severe tear, it will be very difficult to walk or stand on the affected leg
Symptoms will generally be more intense for a severe strain.
How to treat a strained calf muscle
Depending on the severity of the strain, your recovery could range from a few weeks for a mild strain, to several weeks or months for a moderate to severe strain.
What you can do to help
There are some steps you can take at home to treat a strained calf muscle.
For the first 2 - 3 days, RICER protocol is suggested:
Rest your leg as much as possible.
Ice therapy (apply ice packs for 20 minutes every two hours for the first 24 hours).
Compress the injured leg using a bandage wrapped firmly around the calf to minimise swelling.
Elevate the leg using a pillow for support, as much as possible.
Refer - if you are unable to walk, you should seek medical attention to determine if medical imaging is required.
How can osteopathic treatment help?
Muscle strains are one of the most common injuries we treat in the clinic. Our hands-on treatment takes a holistic approach to healing and recovery. If you have tight calf muscles or are experiencing a strain, we may use a range of soft tissue techniques, including massage therapy, joint manipulation and stretching. This helps by increasing blood flow to the area and reducing tightness. As part of your treatment, we may also develop a program of exercises and stretches for you to do at home, as well as getting you to follow a clean diet and adequate water intake. This is all to help with your recovery and to strengthen the muscles - and hopefully prevent the injury from reoccurring in the future!
If you are experiencing pain or tightness in the calf muscles, come and see us. We are here to help! We will assess your symptoms and come up with a treatment plan to get you back to your best. Call us on (03) 9776 1600 or email email@example.com to make an appointment.
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