Calf Muscle Strains
There are two calf muscles located at the back of the lower leg, the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The former is the larger calf muscle, the one creating a visible bulge beneath the skin, and is typically the one injured. These muscles are important, providing strength and stability to both the knee and heel joints. Calf strains are injuries that commonly result when the muscle is stretched, or pulled, beyond its usual limits. For this reason, the injury is frequently referred to as a "pulled" muscle. Calf muscle strains are most common in athletes whose sport requires quick bursts of speed, including running, basketball, soccer and football.
It is also possible for a calf muscle strain to occur as the result of a direct blow to the calf region during accident or attack. Other causes of calf muscle strain are overexertion and exercising in cold weather or without proper preliminary stretching.
Grades of Calf Muscle Strains
When the calf muscles are strained, some of the muscle fibers are torn, resulting in pain and tenderness in the calf area, as well as stiffness, weakness and bruising. When calf muscle strain is severe, the muscle itself may tear, causing more extreme pain and disability. Calf muscle strains are graded according to their severity, grade 1 being a mild tear and grade 3 a complete rupture of the muscle. In the case of a grade 3 muscle strain, the patient may hear a popping sound at the moment of injury. While a grade 1 strain usually heals in a few weeks, a muscle rupture may take several months. Calf muscles strains are diagnosed through a combination of physical examination and imaging tests, such as CT and MRI scans and ultrasounds.
Treatment of Calf Muscle Strains
Mild calf muscle strains can usually be treated at home with simple techniques defined by the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are usually effective in controlling pain and swelling, especially in combination with the application of ice packs. As the muscle heals, many patients benefit form a customized rehabilitation program comprised of physical exercises specifically designed to restore strength and flexibility to the area. Massage can also provide pain relief and improved circulation to assist in the healing process.