Pulled Or Torn Calf Muscle Recovery Time
A pulled or torn calf muscle can be a brief concern, a mild injury resulting from a one-time accident or overstrain. It’s a common sports injury, familiar to many athletes and runners, but one strain that is not properly healed can become a long-term chronic injury that is more likely to become reinjured multiple times. Chronic calf injuries could possibly lead to a complete calf tear and immobility. The treatment options and recovery times differ depending on severity.
The Next Step Is Up To You
Living with pain is never easy as it affects your entire lifestyle. Nothing is more important than making the proper decision when it comes to treating your muscle injury. Most methods only mask the problems or provide temporary relief they do not treat the pain at its source.
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If Surgery Is Necessary
Surgery is rarely necessary in the case of calf strain, but if a calf muscle fully tears and requires surgical repair, your physical therapist will help you minimize pain, restore motion and strength, and return to normal activities in the safest and speediest manner possible after surgery.
- Increasing the intensity of any activity or sport gradually, not suddenly. Avoid pushing yourself too hard, too fast, too soon.
- Always warming up before starting a sport or heavy physical activity.
- Following a consistent strength and flexibility/stretching exercise program to maintain good physical conditioning, even in a sports off-season.
- Wearing shoes that are in good condition and fit well.
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How To Care For A Torn Calf Muscle
Calf pain felt in your calf muscle belly is often the result of a pulled or torn calf muscle. A torn calf muscle can sometimes be confused with an Achilles tendon rupture, significant Achilles tendinopathy, leg cramps, sciatica, or referred pain from your lower back.
Much like the history of an Achilles tendon rupture, you may think you were hit in the leg. Potentially, you may feel a pop or snap. But in nearly 100% of cases, you will feel a sudden pain in the back of your calf. Over the next few hours, youll have difficulty walking correctly, standing on your foot, or rising onto your toes. Swelling or bruising in the calf muscle will be apparent in severe calf muscle tears.
D The Role Of Imaging Calf Strains
Imaging of the injured area of the calf is contextual to the presenting injured runner. In my clinical experience most runners will not require or benefit from imaging to the region .
However occasions when imaging may be required can include:
- when the runner has sustained an injury close to an event and a prognosis /recovery time needs to be known
- when a runner is insistent they need one
- Lack of clarity of diagnosis
- Runner is struggling to achieve desired rehabilitation outcomes
Most runners are happy to not undergo imaging when an explanation regarding their injury is given.
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You Dont Have To Play Tennis To Be Struck With Tennis Leg Alicia Filley Describes How This All Too Common Injury Can Trouble Any Endurance Athlete
Lower leg or calf strain became known as tennis leg because calf injuries were first described in 1883 in lawn tennis athletes. Statistics on the incidence of leg strain in sportsmen and women more generally are sparse. However, researchers estimate that 12% of professional footballers experience calf strain1. An injury more common in middle age athletes, calf strain occurs 70% more often in males than females2.
Calf strain affects the more superficial muscles of the calf. These muscles are the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris muscles . The plantaris muscle is an accessory muscle, which has little functional use. In fact, studies have shown that up to 20% of the population doesnt have one3! When it is present, this small muscle passes across both the knee and ankle joints, and weakly helps with knee and ankle flexion .
The gastrocnemius likewise crosses the knee and ankle joints. It originates as two distinct heads, one on each side of the femur, where it assists the hamstrings with knee flexion . It inserts onto the heel bone through the Achilles tendon, where it acts to plantar flex the foot downward. The soleus, the third muscle in the triceps surae, also acts as a plantar flexor. It originates along the back of the leg bones , lies under the gastrocnemius, and shares the Achilles tendon with the gastrocnemius as it inserts at the heel.
How Can I Prevent A Torn Calf Muscle
You can reduce your risk of a calf muscle tear by:
- Allowing your calf muscles to rest and recover between games, practices or workouts.
- Keeping your calf muscles strong and conditioned.
- Using proper technique when playing sports.
- Warming up and stretching your calf muscles before physical activity.
- Wearing supportive footwear that fits properly.
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Calf Muscle Tear Explained
Muscle tears or strains are caused by undue pressure that usually occurs during physical activity.
This damage results in a partial or full tear of the muscle fibers and attached tendons. This can sometimes damage small blood vessels and cause localized bleeding, bruising, and pain as a result of irritated nerve endings.
- Grade 1 Pull: Damage to a few muscle fibers
- Grade 2 Strain: Damage to a larger number of muscle fibers
- Grade 3 Tear: Complete tear in the muscle
Torn Calf Muscle Complications
Prompt treatment is important for your overall recovery. While it may be difficult to rest your affected leg for a few days, moving around too soon can make the muscle strain worse.
Theres also a risk for a recurring calf muscle strain within one to two weeks of the initial injury. About 30 percent of people with muscle injuries end up having repeated injuries. The chances are greater among athletes who continue to play the same sports and people using the same muscles over and over again. Allowing yourself enough recovery time is critical to your calf muscle treatment.
Its also possible to develop a herniated muscle as a result of a torn calf. This occurs when your calf muscle protrudes underneath your skin, creating a visible bump. While not necessarily painful, this lump must be treated by a doctor to avoid further muscle injury.
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Calf Muscle Tear Treatment
Reviewed by: KPE Medical Review Board
Calf muscle tear treatment can usually be carried out at home with most people making a full recovery.
A pulled calf muscle, aka “calf tear” or “calf strain”, is a really common injury where one of the calf muscles gets overstretched causing some of the muscle fibres to tear.
There are three different grades of calf strain, classified by what proportion of the muscle is torn. Calf muscle tear treatment will vary depending on the grade of damage.
Here we will look at the rehab and recovery process with calf muscle tear treatment and what you can do to ensure a full, timely recovery without risking re-injury.
What Does A Torn Calf Muscle Feel Like
Symptoms of a torn calf muscle can include:
- No calf strength, including being unable to balance or bear weight on the injured leg.
- Snapping or popping sensation in your calf.
- Sudden pain in the back of your lower leg, like someone kicked your calf.
- Swelling and bruising in your calf muscle.
- Visible indentation beneath the skin where the muscle is torn.
In very rare cases, torn calf muscle complications can include:
- Compartment syndrome, or severe swelling that prevents blood from reaching muscles.
- Deep vein thrombosis , or a blood clot deep in your leg.
- Superficial thrombophlebitis, or a blood clot in a vein near the surface of your skin.
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Surviving A Torn Calf Muscle: Symptoms Causes And Finding Recovery
While physical activity can improve cardiovascular endurance, maintain strength and flexibility, or simply relieve stress, it can also lead to minor or severe injuries.
Injuries that occur during physical activity can be as minor as a sprain, an abrasion or small laceration. But more intense and debilitating injuries like muscle strains, tears, or bone fractures can create a more intensive recovery and rehabilitation for the individual.
While fractures are more traumatic and not necessarily as common, muscle tears and strains can be wildly more common in endurance training like running, sprinting, etc.
Though muscle tears and strains can occur anywhere on the body, tears within the lower body and lower legs are more frequent while running or endurance training. These muscles include hamstrings, quadriceps, and the smaller muscles the gastrocnemius, or the calf muscle.
How Can An Osteopath Help
- Our dedicated osteopaths will assess severity of the injury and do some hands on therapy to relieve surrounding tension and improve range of motion.
- Over the course of the next couple of visits motion and strength will be improved with specific exercises and return to sport training advice to get you back on track.
- With this combination your osteopath will be able to aid in relieving muscle tension and pain.
- Strengthen your calf.
- Improve nociceptive abilities and balance.
- Improving speed and agility.
- Give you the best chance to avoid re-injury.
- If thought to be secondary to poor biomechanics of the foot and ankle, our new heat moldable orthotics may be warranted.
Dr. Cameron Bayliss
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How To Heal A Torn Calf Muscle
If youve torn your calf muscle, you wont fully heal until the tear has repaired itself. The healing process can take anywhere between two weeks and three months, depending on the severity of the tear.
As with a strain, you should consult a doctor to make sure you dont need surgery, and youll probably be prescribed rest and ice, with the potential addition of crutches if the healing process is taking longer than expected. You can also try using a leg brace to support your calf muscle until it heals. In addition, you can try using low-impact exercises like cycling or swimming to help you stay active while youre recovering.
You must let the pain subside before you start exercising again. You can use ice to relieve pain and swelling, and you can use various stretching exercises to help with healing. Calf strengthening exercises are also important to help with healing and are especially useful if you have a pulled calf muscle.
The Role Of Regenerative Medicine In Calf Strain Recovery
Significant progress has been made recently in the field of regenerative medicine. Soft tissue injuries in particular have taken well to this new form of therapy. Using stem cells or platelet-rich plasma, these types of therapy offer pain relief and faster healing for patients suffering from an injury to the calf muscle.
In some cases, it can even allow patients to surpass the need for surgery. CELLAXYS offers two types of regenerative therapy:
- Autologous stem cell therapy: this form of therapy begins with taking a patients stem cells, which are harvested using blood cells, fat cells, or bone marrow. The cells are processed to be more concentrated, then reinjected into the calf muscle. Stem cells contain healing properties that the body already sends to an injury, which can aid in collagen production allowing scars to heal and the wound to close. Placing a concentrated stem cell solution into a part of the body that is healing can help the damage heal faster.
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy: this form of therapy begins with a simple blood draw. The patients blood is then placed in a centrifuge to separate platelets from other components in the blood. The platelets are then injected into the injury or surgery site. Platelets contain proteins and growth factors that the body uses naturally to heal damage. Increasing the number of platelets at the site of a tear could help it heal more quickly and stronger.
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J Assessing The Capacity Of The Calf Musculature
In clinical practice I use two types of tests to assess and where possible benchmark a runners plantar flexor capacity: body weight tests and also loaded tests. The aim of these tests is to establish the load tolerance of the calf musculature . This can be done initially on examination of the injured runner who has just sustained a calf injury or as rehabilitation commences and progresses.
Body weight tests:
Standing single leg calf raise test.
The runner rises up and down pushing through the first and second toes to a 2s up, 2s down tempo. This is ideally completed without shoes with weight being centred through the first and second toes. Pain on this test may implicate the gastrocnemius . The assessor needs to monitor quality of movement and symmetry side to side.
Known benchmarks exist from the literature for the median number of reps for different age decades as listed below -sourced from Hebert-Losier et al :
- 20s: male 38, female 31
- 30s: male 33, female 28
- 40s: male 29, female 25
- 50s: male 24, female 23
- 60s: male 20, female 20
- 70s: male 15, female 17
- 80s: male 10, female 15
Clinically I like to see all runners be able to complete 30 continuous repetitions with good form, and arbitrarily use the following assessment criteria:
- a difference of greater than 5 reps side to side can signify significance and needing to address the asymmetry
Standing bent knee test
Standing double leg calf raise test
Standing single leg calf raise
Who Gets Pulled Calf Muscles
Anyone can get a pulled calf muscle. But these strains are more common in athletes who perform lots of stop-and-go movements with quick bursts of speed. Sprinters, football players, soccer players and tennis players are prone to pulled calf muscles. Sometimes the injury is called tennis leg.
Other risk factors for pulled calf muscles include:
- Age: People over 40 may be more likely to get strains during physical activity.
- Sex: Some studies suggest that men are more likely to get calf muscle injuries.
- Lack of conditioning: Its important to warm up and stretch before physical activity and condition your muscles before the start of a sports season.
- Muscle quality: People with tight or short calf muscles have a higher risk of calf strains.
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What Does Pulled Strained Or Torn Calf Muscle Feel Like
Straining, pulling, or tearing a calf muscle can feel like something has hit the back of your leg with force. According to the journal Radiology Case Reports, people who strain or tear a calf muscle have the sensation of something snapping in their mid-calf. In many cases, it is possible to hear the muscle pop or tear.5
A severe calf strain or torn calf will also feel very tender to touch. Dr. Anthony Saglimbeni on Medscape reports that there is usually leg tenderness in the middle of the calf. A second or third-degree calf injury will also cause swelling which causes a bulge in the back of the lower leg.6
Other symptoms of a muscle tear in the calf could also feel like sharp pain behind the knee as you walk or put pressure on the leg. It may also be impossible to flex your foot, and pushing off from your foot when walking could be very painful.
How Is It Diagnosed
If you see a physical therapist first, they will conduct a thorough initial evaluation. This will include taking your health history. A calf strain may result from a single injury. Often, however, calf strain develops because of repeated activities.
Your physical therapist will gather information about your condition to determine the specific cause of your calf strain. The interview will be specific to you, and may include questions such as:
- Did an injury occur?
- How have you taken care of your calf strain so far? Have other health care practitioners ordered imaging or other tests?
- What are your current symptoms, and how do they affect your day?
- If there is pain, what is the location and intensity of your pain? Does your pain vary during the day?
- What activities, if any, do you find difficult to complete?
- What activities are you unable to complete since your injury?
After the interview, your physical therapist will complete a physical examination. They may:
- Observe your movements .
- Note any movements that make your symptoms worse or better.
- Test the mobility and strength of your calf and other areas.
- Gently and skillfully touch the injured area to determine exactly where it is most painful.
Following the interview and physical examination, your physical therapist will discuss the findings with you. They will work with you to develop a personalized treatment program to begin your recovery.
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Torn Calf Muscle Recovery
The best way to recover from a torn calf muscle is by protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation . If treated properly, it can take up to three weeks to heal Grade 1 calf pulls, four to six weeks to heal Grade 2 muscle strains, and three to four months to heal Grade 3 tears.
Though this type of injury can heal on its own, its important to get a medical evaluation from a trained professional first before beginning treatment.