Pulled Calf Muscle: Symptoms, Treatment And Recovery Time

The calf muscles are found at the back of the leg. A pulled calf muscle is when these muscles are pulled beyond their limit leading to a muscle strain.

These muscles are responsible for carrying the heel off the floor when we are walking, jumping or running. They also help to propel the body forward while walking and running. They also help to pump blood against gravity back to the heart.

These muscles are connected to the heel by the toughest tendon in the body, the Achilles Tendon.

What Can Cause Pulled Calf Muscles

1. Overuse

Activities that involve a lot of action from the calf muscles, like running frequently, place a lot of demand that can eventually lead to a pulled calf muscle.

2. Improper warm-up

Warming up is a major part of the exercise regimen that is very necessary for optimal muscle health. Warm-up prepares the muscles for any function or exertion that they may be performing, in sports or any other activity.

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3. Tight muscles

Having tight calf muscles makes them inefficient to do their work. When a muscle is tight, it is under a lot of tension and any sudden impact on the muscle can harm it.

4. Inappropriate footwear

Proper footwear is meant to balance out your foot to reduce the stress on the muscles in the legs. Wearing improper footwear throws the feet off balance and place a lot of stress on the calf muscles.

Symptoms

  1. Pain at the back of the leg
  2. Tenderness
  3. Swelling
  4. Bruising
  5. Redness
  6. Difficulty standing on your toes

Diagnostic Tests

Doctors will examine to know the severity of the injury and the proper way of management.

X-rays are not usually recommended because it is a muscle injury but can be necessary to ensure that there is no fracture or dislocation that may happen at the knee or ankle joint.

An MRI can be used to locate the site of the injury and the severity.

Treatment

Pain Relieving Medication

Over-the-counter analgesics are usually recommended to help relieve pain at the calf muscles. Medications like Tylenol, Ibuprofen or Diclofenac are the major ones used.

Protection

Once the injury has occurred, the calf muscles need to be protected from further injury. Because the calf muscles play a role in our walking and running, these activities need to be avoided to protect the muscles.

Rest

While protect is preventing further injury, rest is reducing the activities on that muscle like reducing your walking using crutches and reducing your exercises.

Ice

Ice packs relieve pain and reduce swelling, they also help to reduce any internal bleeding that may be happening at the calf muscles. This can be applied by using a moderate-sized chunk of ice to massage the painful area for 5 minutes or crushed ice in a damp towel over the injured site for 15 minutes.

Compression

An elastic bandage is usually recommended. All you have to do is wrap the site of injury with the bandage and make sure it is not too tight.

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Elevation

Elevating the affected leg above your chest while lying on your back helps you to reduce the swelling as well.

Physiotherapy

A physiotherapist’s goal is to get you back to how you were prior to the injury. This is done by using treatment modalities to help with the pain. Apart from ice, heat therapy may also be used to relieve pain much later.

Also, a physiotherapist will prescribe exercises that are peculiar to the stage of your injury. For example, exercises may not be recommended at the initial phase because of pain and swelling but as the injury heals, exercises will be added.

Exercises

Exercises are necessary during the healing process of the injured calf muscles. Stretches need to be carried out to avoid a reduced range of movement at the joints and make our muscles healthy and flexible.

These exercises, however, should not be done unless it has been prescribed by your physiotherapist.

Calf Stretches In A Lying Position

  • Sit up on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you and your back straight
  • You can rest your back against the wall
  • Bend your ankle with your toes pointing towards you
  • Hold for 20 seconds
  • Release
  • Repeat 3 – 5 times

Calf Raises

This exercise can also be done to strengthen the calf muscles as well.

  • Stand on the edge of a step or a step bench
  • Let your heel be off the bench with only the balls of your feet on the bench
  • Stand on your toes
  • Slowly drop your heel till you feel a stretch in your calves
  • Hold this position for 20 seconds
  • Return to standing on your toes.
  • You can hold on to something so you do not fall

Recovery Time

Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury. A mild injury might take a few days for symptoms to improve while full recovery can take 2-6 weeks. For a more serious one, recovery can take up to 3 months.

Prevention

  1. Warm-up before any activity. Your muscles need to be prepared for any activity, especially after an injury.
  2. Stretch before and every activity.
  3. Go for a regular checkup with your physiotherapist. A regular check-up with your therapist enables you to know how far your calf muscles have gone and the intensity of activities that the muscle can handle.
  4. Wear proper shoes.

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