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Calf Muscle Strain

(Pulled Calf Muscle; Gastrocnemius Strain; Gastrocnemius Tear; Gastrocnemius Muscle Injury)

Definition

A calf muscle strain is a partial or full tear of the muscle in the back of the lower leg.

Causes

Causes may be:

  • Stretching the calf muscle too far
  • Putting sudden stress on the calf muscle
  • A direct blow to the calf muscle

Risk Factors

This problem in more common in people who do activities with sudden bursts of speed, such as track sports, basketball, and football.

Other things that may raise your risk of this problem are:

  • A prior strain or injury to the muscle
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Not being ready for the exercise or stress

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Pain when pushing off the foot or standing on tiptoe
  • Stiffness in the calf muscle
  • Weakness of the calf muscle
  • Bruising on the calf
  • A popping sensation as the muscle tears

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, health history, and how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on your calf muscle. This is enough to make the diagnosis.

Treatment

The goal is to ease pain and improve movement. This may be done with:

  • Ice and rest to ease pain and swelling
  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • Exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscle

Prevention

The risk of a calf muscle strain may be lowered by:

  • Using the right techniques when playing sports
  • Stretching and strengthening the calf muscles
RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

OrthoInfo—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Calf strain advice. Oxford University Hospitals website. Available at: https://www.ouh.nhs.uk/patient-guide/leaflets/files/10921Pcalfstrain.pdf. Published November 2014. Accessed March 27, 2020.

Muscle strain (pulled muscle). Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/orthopaedic-surgery/specialty-areas/sports-medicine/conditions-we-treat/muscle-strains.html. Accessed March 27, 2020.

Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS  Last Updated: 3/27/2020