At Physical Therapy Clinic Lucan we have had a number clients presenting with a calf strain in the past few weeks, with this in mind I decided to write a guide on how to manage a calf strain.

The calf is made up of two main muscles in the lower leg: gastrocnemius or soleus, these are strained when they are stretched beyond their ability to withstand the tension. This strain can result in small tears to the muscle fibers or, in a severe injury, a complete rupture of the muscle fibers. There may also be bruising and swelling of the lower leg.

A calf strain can happen as a result of sudden acceleration or change of direction while running.

Calf strains are typically graded as follows:

Grade 1 Calf Strain: The muscle is stretched causing some small tears in the muscle fibers. Full recovery takes approximately two weeks.

Grade 2 Calf Strain: There is partial tearing of muscle fibers. Full recovery takes approximately 5-8 weeks.

Grade 3 Calf Strain: This is the most severe calf strain with a complete tearing or rupture of muscle fibers in the lower leg. Full recovery can take 3-4 months and, in some instances, surgery may be needed.

Calf Strain Treatment:

The first treatment is R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Wrap the calf and keep it elevated for the first 24 hours to reduce swelling. Ice the calf for 2 mins then remove the ice for 2 mins, repeat in blocks of 20 mins.

Typical rehab for a calf strain depends upon the severity of the injury, and includes the following.

Rest the Muscle. Avoid impact activities that cause pain and excessive stretching (no running, jumping, or weightlifting). Do not return to your sport until you are pain-free.

Dry needling can be very effective in speeding up recovery by increasing blood flow to the muscle to repair the tear.

Massage also helps realign muscle fibers, breakdown scar tissue and speed up repair of damaged muscle fibers.therband-plantarflexion

Strengthen the Muscle: When the acute pain has eased you can start strength exercises for the muscle, some early stage exercises include thera band exercises i.e. wrap exercise band around your toes and press foot away against resistance and then slowly return to the start position. Do 10 reps, rest and repeat 5 to 10 times.

Over time you can progress to the Calf Raise Exercise both double and single leg raises. These should be followed by gentle stretching. As the calf strength improves you can add in some plyo exercises to increase load in the calf e.g. Hoping, Skipping, Lunging and Squats.

If you wish to return to running it is important to ease your way back into running so as not to re injury the muscle, while also allowing the muscle to adapt and change to the extra load. A good program to follow is a walk/run program e.g. 2min Walk followed by 2min Run and slowly increase the run time over a number of weeks.

As you get back into regular training it is important to include regular stretching and flexibility program to gain range of motion and prevent future calf injury. A Foam Roller is a great tool to use to perform self-massage to reduce scar tissue formation and improve blood flow to the area. Physical Therapy Clinic Lucan goal of rehab is to return our clients to normal activity as quickly as possible without any long-term effects. If you return too soon, you risk developing a chronic injury. Keep in mind that everyone recovers at a different rate, and your rehab needs to build over time so you don’t re injure yourself. Patience is key to rehabing a calf strain injury.