Calf Strain

The calf muscles have to work hard during various sports activities, especially running. Calf strain usually results from tearing (or pulling) one of these muscles.

Symptoms

Sudden pain during activity, which may be experienced as sharp and severe or as an ache. The affected area may be inflamed or bruised depending on the condition's seriousness. Lesser pain might continue for several days and be accompanied by tightness in the calf. In the event of a minor injury, the athlete may feel they can continue the activity (though this is not recommended). This is likely to be diagnosed as a Grade 1 injury in terms of strain severity, with only tiny muscle tears. (There are also more minor injuries with no apparent tearing.)

Grade 2 tears are characterised by greater bruising or swelling, a longer period of pain continuation, and will impede the sufferer's walking ability. Healing can take up to 2 months.

A Grade 3 strain involves a total rupture or tearing of a muscle, with the most chronic pain and a possible 3 to 4 months for recovery. In addition to the above Grade 1 and 2 symptoms it will probably feel impossible to contract the muscle.

Causes

Overpronation of the foot can lead to calf strain. This is caused by faulty biomechanics making the feet roll inwards, placing excessive pressure on the calf muscles. Insufficient warm ups before exercise can also leave the muscles vulnerable, as can training when the muscles are fatigued or weakened. Other common causes include dehydration, an overuse of hills or uneven surfaces for running, and partaking in activities with many rapid changes in direction.

Treatment

You should begin to rest your calf immediately. Try to elevate it initially to combat inflammation, and ice the area using an ice pack. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen may also help but first check with your doctor. Stretch gently to maintain flexibility without exacerbating the pain, and do not participate in high-impact activities until the pain is gone. Swimming can be a low-impact alternative. As the pain lessens you should increase the intensity of your stretching and strengthening exercises with guidance from a doctor. Massage can be beneficial, and you can do this yourself or with assistance. You should see your doctor as soon as possible to diagnose the injury's severity and receive any necessary medical attention. In rare cases surgery may be necessary.

Prevention

Straining the calf once puts you at greater risk of doing so again. Therefore it is important not to return to strenuous activity until a medical professional is satisfied or until your pain and swelling has ceased. Jogging and running should not cause you pain. If your injury was associated to overpronation, purchase the relevant insoles or other footwear to correct the problem. Shock absorbent shoes are preferable for many athletes as they reduce stress on the calf muscles. Regular stretching will increase power and balance in the muscles throughout the legs, and always warm up effectively, take suitable breaks during activity, and drink plenty of water.

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