What is a calf tear?
The calf is a group of muscles on the back of the leg travelling from the knee down to the Achilles tendon on the back of the heel. A tear in this muscle is damage to the muscle fibres caused by an overstretch to the muscles. There are varying degrees of tears that can occur depending on the degree of damage done to the muscle fibres. Calf muscle tears usually occur during acceleration or changes in direction eg a change of running speed. However, there is a small percentage of the population who can tear their calf muscle by simply walking. People often feel a sharp pain in the back of the leg at the time of the injury. Pain is often accompanied by weakness and an inability to stretch due to discomfort. Restoration of strength and the ability to stretch usually occurs within 7-10 days, as the tear begins to heal.
Signs and symptoms of a calf tear
- Sudden onset of pain in the muscle following a specific incident
- Tenderness in the muscle
- Muscle swelling
- Muscle stiffness
- Inflammation in the muscle. The signs of this can be redness in the leg and bruising in the area
- Reduce ability to move the leg or walk on the affected side
What causes a calf tear?
Factors that lead to calf tears may include:
- age (older athletes are more at risk),
- Lack of calf strength or endurance
- Lack of sports-specific training (ie, starting to play touch football without any speed or agility training)
- Previous injury. As recurrence is a likely outcome, it is essential that subjects are given an appropriate strength and conditioning program to facilitate return to activity and minimise the chance of re-injury.
Treatment of a calf tear
Initially, your physiotherapist will give you a clear diagnosis regarding which muscle is torn and how badly. They will then give you an indication of how long it will take to return to sport or your chosen activity. A plan should then outline the following:
- Initial management- Active rest. Whilst the area needs to be protected in the acute stage it is important to keep the area moving within pain free limits.
- Ice Therapy– 10 minutes on with a 20 minute rest break as often as you can
- Compression-use a compressive sleeve or taping from the ankle up to the knee
- Early intervention– The sooner the healing process begins, the better the recovery
- Strengthening—a progressive program of exercises to regain the strength of the calf.
- Running—a graduated program to build speed, agility, sport-specific skills and then return to training and finally sport.
- Return to sport or physical activity guidelines and expectations