If you are an athlete or runner, you have probably experienced a calf strain or heard of an individual who has experienced one while exercising. A calf strain is a common injury that happens when the two internal muscles of the lower posterior of your leg are overstretched or torn to some degree. It is advisable to seek treatment for a pulled calf muscle immediately because they can be acute in the short term or cause a chronic injury in the long run. Sadly, some individuals opt to treat the damages independently, but visiting a professional therapist for optimal outcomes is recommended.
At Suarez Physical Therapy, we are committed to offering the best physical therapy services in Las Vegas, NV, to lower the pain of your injury, restore muscle power, and speed up healing.
Definition of a Calf Strain
Strains are injuries to the tendon or muscles that cause partial or complete tearing. A calf strain happens when performing physical activity or due to awkward footing. This movement is what causes the muscles to overstretch beyond the usual limit. The injuries are common among athletes like runners, rugby, soccer, football, tennis and basketball players, dancers, and gymnasts. When these injuries are not addressed immediately after occurring, they could result in acute or chronic long-term injuries. However, the injuries can reoccur, especially when your physical therapist fails to concentrate on muscle strength during treatment.
A calf refers to the muscles on the back and the lower aspect of your leg. It comprises nine different muscles, although the largest are gastrocnemius and soleus. Also, there is the plantaris muscle that attaches to the ankle bone. The role of the remaining six muscles is to encourage flexible and efficient knee, foot, and toe movement. A calf muscle strain occurs when any of these nine muscles tears or overstretches either suddenly or gradually.
The gastrocnemius muscle is susceptible to injuries as it extends over the knees and the ankle. The primary role of the muscle is to provide plantar flexion in the knee that provides the propelling force that enables you to walk. The soleus muscle helps with the stabilization of the tibia, limiting the forward sway of the leg while at the same time assisting with plantar flexion.
Muscle Strain Grading
Muscle strains are graded from I to III based on the level of damage caused. These grades are:
- Grade I — This results from a trivial or partial stretching or ripping of some muscle fibers. With this strain grade, you will experience slight tenderness and pain around the muscle area, although you will retain the usual walking and leg strength.
- Grade II — This muscle strain happens when you experience modest stretch or ripping on your muscle fibers. After this injury grade, you experience tenderness, but this time with pain. Additionally, you will have some bruising. Due to loss of leg strength, these injuries limit your movement and cause you to limp while walking.
- Grade III — This grade of muscle strain causes severe muscle tear. After the injury, you will develop bruising and swelling in the muscle area. In some cases, a scar is visible through your skin but only when the muscle fibers are torn. After this kind of strain, it becomes incredibly challenging to use the leg. When you put any weight on the limb, it results in extreme loss of movement.
Note that the bruising you notice beneath your skin is caused by the bleeding caused by muscle rupture or tear. When severe, a pulled calf muscle results in ankle bruising that causes swelling after some hours. As a result, the injured muscle expands and stiffens, causing motion loss.
Calf Strain Presentation
When your calf muscles are pulled or strained, you will feel the following:
- A piercing throb in the posterior of your lower leg that goes away quickly or sometimes lasts longer
- An excruciating pain when the leg is resting, coupled with sharp pain stabs whenever you try standing or walking
- Tightness, weakness, or soreness sensation around the calf location
- Calf muscle spasms or gripping
- There is a sharp throbbing in the back lower aspect of your leg whenever you move your ankle, knee, or try to stretch.
- A pulling feeling during the injury
- A snap or pop sound when the damage occurs
The feeling during the injury depends on the strained muscle.
Calf Strain Symptoms
After you have felt any of the above after an injury, you will start noticing the following:
- Swelling around the strain area
- Bruising when the muscle tears
- Lower leg weakness when you attempt to walk or stand
- Limping while walking
- You are unable to perform routines that require walking or standing
- The injuries hinder you from jumping, running, or putting any weight on the injured leg
At Suarez Physical Therapy, we encourage you to visit a physical therapist immediately if you experience any of the above manifestations. Seeing a therapist on time will ensure a timely diagnosis and treatment of the harm to prevent re-injury or chronic injuries.
At the Physical Therapist’s Office
When you schedule a meeting with our profound physical therapists, we will perform a detailed initial review of your case to ensure an accurate diagnosis. Our physicians will diagnose a calf strain by first learning about your medical history because these injuries can stem from one event or repeated activities.
Therefore, the physician assigned your case must take time to evaluate the leg and establish the strained calf muscle. Some of the questions the therapist will ask during diagnosis are:
- Did you sustain an injury?
- In what ways have you cared for the injury?
- Have you received medical examinations from other medical practitioners?
- What symptoms are you experiencing and their effects on your routine?
- What is its intensity if you feel pain?
- Which part of the calf is it from?
- What activities does the injury hinder you from performing?
Once you have answered these questions, the PT will perform a physical exam and evaluate your symptoms. The physical examination involves:
- Palpating or pressing on the calf muscles to check for tenderness or swelling
- Request for a description of your daily physical activity
- Request you to walk or climb stairs to observe your movement
- Test your calf mobility and strength
- Gently touch the affected area to spot the locations with more pain
After the discussion and physical checkup, the expert will deliberate the results and formulate a treatment plan based on your needs.
In particular instances, the therapist can involve other professionals like orthopedists to promote a correct diagnosis. When they are unsure of the results from the interview and physical examinations, they will order additional studies or tests. Further, tests are necessary because an injury might not be what it looks. Calf pain that appears to have been caused by a muscle strain could also be a sign of severe blood vessel problems like compartment syndrome. Therefore, where a diagnosis is unclear, further studies are necessary.
One of the tests the therapist will recommend is the ultrasound with Doppler. The test utilizes sound waves to generate the pictorial representation of soft body tissues. Besides, this form of ultrasound tracks blood flow throughout the body to spot or identify muscle tears, internal bleeding, or clots.
Alternatively, the PT can use imaging techniques like MRIs to gather information about various soft tissues to help them differentiate between muscle injuries and tendon issues. However, MRIs and X-rays are less required when your calf muscles are overstretched or pulled.
The Role of a Physical Therapist
Also known as a PT, a physical therapist is a mobility professional that offers treatment to enhance your life quality. These experts incorporate care, physical activity, and patient training to speed up and efficiently recover. The treatment plan adopted depends on your diagnosis and the goal to resume your routines or sporting activities.
Within the first one to two days of your injury, the therapist can:
- Recommend you to break and avoid movement or activities that can trigger pain
- Put you on scratches or brace and train you on their usage
- Spread over an ice pack to the affected location and guide you on how to do it yourself
- Bandage or wrap the area to compress the swelling
- Fit your shoes with heel lift cushions
- Consult with other medical professionals like orthopedists for additional studies
Treatment Plan for Calf Strain
The treatment for a calf strain hinges on the strictness of the injury. However, most do not require surgical repair. The PT will partner with you closely to formulate a bespoke treatment plan based on your injuries. Usually, the program includes:
One crucial step towards healing is identifying the external elements triggering your pain. These factors could be the type of shoes you wear, the form and quantity of physical exercise you perform, and other athletic activities. If the injuries stem from excessive physical activity, the therapist will cut down on the training or recommend other exercise programs to eliminate the pain. Once the pain is gone during exercising, you can resume your regular workout routine.
With pain management, the therapist will advise you on pain-relieving techniques. One of the techniques at Suarez Physical Therapy that will encourage you to use is the rest technique. Whenever you experience pain in your calf while exercising, our therapists encourage you to pause and rest. Pain is an indication that something is not right with the calf muscles, and pushing through with it while performing your physical activity will do more harm than good. When you experience pain while walking or moving around the house, the physician will put you on crutches to rest the affected leg for some days.
Similarly, you can manage pain by applying an ice pack to the injured muscle for between twenty minutes to one hundred and twenty minutes. Note that you should not apply the ice to the skin directly. You can even use a heating pad to reduce muscle inflammation though you should not sleep with it.
Also, you should compress the affected calf using a wrap or compression to reduce blood flow in the overstretched or torn muscle and prevent inflammation.
Again, our therapists recommend you keep the damaged leg elevated. Keep the elevation overhead the heart level and support the leg using pillows or a blanket. Doing so reduces leg inflammation.
Lastly, the PT can administer over-the-counter pain medication like Ibuprofen to alleviate the pain and reduce inflammation.
If your symptoms do not improve after several days of pain management, it is an indication that the condition is more severe, thus requiring surgery or physical therapy. Alternatively, we can temporarily administer more potent pain killers.
The muscle strain can cause increased tension in the calf. Your PT will address this problem by teaching you a couple of movement techniques that will help you regain normal leg mobility.
Your therapist can manually move the muscle fibers and joints to enhance their mobility and strength. Also, they address the issues you find challenging to treat from home.
When your calf muscles are weak or imbalanced, you will suffer a calf strain. Besides, when an injury occurs in this area of your lower leg, it can result in muscle weakness. Our therapists will tailor a muscle-strengthening treatment plan that includes your core and lower body muscles depending on your leg condition. We will choose the physical activity depending on your age and bodily state, eliminating the fear of an unsafe program that could worsen your situation.
After alleviating the pain and enhancing your calf muscle mobility and strength, it is time to transition back to your regular physical activity. However, you must perform these exercises without putting strain on your calf area. Our physical therapists will educate you on safe and controlled motions to lower the risk of repeated injury after recovery. One of the exercises you can perform to complement the rest and healing is stretching. It helps heal the affected muscles and stabilizes the ankle and knees. Some of the physical therapy exercises we recommend for our patients include:
- Chair stretches — These involve sitting in a firm chair, bending, and straightening the knee of the affected calf muscle for ten reps at a go.
- Wall stretches — You should face a wall and spread your arms out so that your hands are steadfastly touching the wall level with the shoulders. Press your heel firmly to the ground to straighten the leg in question, then step the other leg headfirst to assume a ninety-degree angle. Hold the position for half a minute and perform four repetitions. You can then repeat the procedure as much as possible when comfortable.
- Floor stretches — Require that you sit on the floor and straighten the bruised leg. Stretch the foot and ensure the heel is firmly fixed on the floor, then gently press the toes in your direction for five seconds.
- Standing stretches — These stretches require you to grasp the back of a firm chair and hoist yourself up on the orbs of your feet for five seconds. You can then repeat the stretches twice a day.
Recovery and Prognosis
The healing and prognosis of a calf strain depend on the severity of the injury. It takes around three days for a mild calf strain to feel better. Nevertheless, full recovery will require no more than six weeks. In cases where surgical repairs are needed, the healing period can extend to twelve months. Luckily, most patients with a calf strain do not require surgery.
Timely treatment is critical to your recovery. Therefore, even though it is challenging to rest the hurt leg, avoid motions soon after starting therapy because this could worsen the situation. Also, you are at risk of reinjuring the calf within seven to fourteen days of the original strain. Athletes who continue with the same physical or sporting activity after the injuries are at an elevated risk of suffering another calf strain injury because of repeated use of the same muscles. Therefore, you should allow yourself adequate time to recover after treatment, whatever the circumstances.
When you suffer a calf strain for the first time, the chances are high you will sustain another injury in the future. Therefore, it is critical to learn how to prevent the repeat of these injuries. Some of the techniques you can employ to avert repeat muscle strains are:
- Always warm-up for not less than five minutes before demanding physical activity
- Enhance the intensity of your physical activity gradually and not suddenly
- When resuming your exercises, do not push too hard, fast, or soon
- Adhere to a consistent strength and stretching treatment plan to keep fit even in off seasons when there are no sporting activities. The goal is to build muscle, enhance mobility and lower the risk of injury.
- Stretch your legs and muscles before and after physical exercise
- Allow yourself five minutes to cool after physical activity
Not all physical therapists in Las Vegas will help you attain the outcome you desire after a calf strain. Therefore, take your time and find a therapist who meets the necessary credentials and has experience handling injuries like yours.
Find an Experienced Physical Therapist Near Me
It is essential to seek a physical therapist’s intervention when you sustain a calf strain. Timely and proper treatment increases the chances of quick recovery. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we aim to provide our clients with the best physical therapy services in Las Vegas. We are committed to offering hands-on care and patient education for a seamless recovery. You can contact us at 702-368-6778 to schedule a meeting or case evaluation.