Your calves are made up of a group of muscles that move your foot, ankle and knee! The most superficial group of these muscles are often really tight which can lead to easily over stretching them, causing a tear.
In this blog we will chat about how to identify a calf strain and how to manage it!
HOW DOES A CALF TEAR HAPPEN?
Tearing of a muscle is most commonly done with over stretching. This can happen when a muscle is really tight, or it hasn’t been warmed up properly before playing sport. When the muscle is overstretched, tearing of little fibres occurs, which leads to weakening and bleeding of the muscle.
There are two main muscles which make up the calf, both of which are commonly injured – the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles. The best way to tell the difference between the two are their attachments and actions.
The gastrocnemius muscle comes from the achilles tendon and travels up to split into two heads which cross the knee joint and attach onto the femur bone.
The soleus muscle is a fish shaped muscle found deeper in the calf, it also comes from the achilles tendon but it only attaches onto the tibia bone, so it doesn’t cross the knee.
This information is really important to remember when your Osteopath is diagnosing which muscle has been injured. As the gastrocnemius muscle crosses the knee, you are going to feel pain when you try to stretch the muscle by extending the knee and ankle. On the other hand, the soleus muscle will only be aggravated by ankle extension, you will not need to extend the knee to feel a stretch.
These same positions apply to when your Osteopath will try and get you to activate your calf muscles. With your knee straight, your gastrocnemius will do most of the work. With your knee bent, your soleus muscle will.
HOW SEVERE IS MY MUSCLE TEAR?
Grading muscle strains are important when planning your management of the injury. Here are the 3 different grades of muscle tearing and what they mean:
Grade 1 (mild) tears:
- Only cause less than 10% of tearing to the muscle
- Even though you have injured yourself and you’re in pain, you are still able to move your leg and continue with your activity if you tried
- When examined, your muscle would be tender around the area with mild swelling
Grade 2 (moderate) tears:
- Cause approximately 10-50% of tearing of the muscle fibres
- You will have to stop activity as you will experience more weakness of the muscle
- When examined, your muscle will be very sore with moderate swelling and weakness
Grade 3 (severe) tears:
- Cause 50-100% of tearing of the muscle
- This injury will cause severe pain and inability to walk
- On examination, your calf muscle won’t be able to contract, and if complete tearing has occurred, your practitioner will be able to feel this
WHAT DO I DO IF I TEAR MY CALF?
First and foremost you will need to practice RICE
Next up you will hopefully have booked in with your Osteopath or other allied healthcare professional! Once the diagnosis has been made, your Osteopath will provide you with treatment and a management plan for the coming weeks.
What this will include:
- Treatment of the ankle, calf, knee and any other area that has been affected by the strain (for example your back from walking differently)
- Taping of the ankle and calf can help increase the blood supply to the area for healing and make you feel more supported
- Rehabilitation exercises – which will be custom prescribed for you depending on the severity of your calf strain
- The use of a heat pack on the area once swelling and bruising has decreased to help encourage blood flow and healing
- Referral to your doctor or a specialist if your calf strain is severe and in need of potential surgery
SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND
A deep vein thrombosis can present similarly to a calf strain! A DVT in your leg can present with calf pain, swelling, heat and changes in colour. A DVT is very dangerous and can lead to very serious side effects. This is why it is so important to consult a health professional to diagnose your injury.
If you would like to learn more about the lower part of your body, take a look at Sarah’s blog on how to strengthen your ankles.
Disclaimer: This blog post is an educational tool only. It is not a replacement for medical advice from a registered and qualified doctor or health professional.
Any other questions not answered here? Get in touch with us!
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