Have I torn my calf muscle?

12 Jul Have I torn my calf muscle?

What is a calf tear?

A calf tear is an injury that occurs to one of the calf muscles in the back of the lower leg. The two major muscles commonly referred to as the ‘calf’ are the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. The superficial gastrocnemius originates above the knee joint and comprises of two parts (medial and lateral). The deeper soleus originates below the knee joint.  Together they form the Achilles tendon attaching into the heel.

Other muscles in the calf region include plantaris, flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus, tibialis posterior, peroneus longus and peroneus brevis.

 

Common causes

A calf tear can occur gradually or suddenly when the muscle is overstretched or under high force resulting in strain and tearing of the fibres.  Common mechanisms include:

  • Attempting to run from a stationary position
  • Lunging forward
  • Sudden overstretching force- eg running and landing on a curb/object and the ankle drops suddenly

 

What are the signs and symptoms of a torn calf muscle?

A calf tear has a sudden onset of pain in the calf region, and common descriptions include acute pain, stabbing, tearing, significant cramp, “a hit to the back of the leg” and a “pop” may be heard.

In some cases people may continue doing there activity, in more severe cases people will have difficulty walking, significant pain on pointing their foot away, stretching the calf and rising up onto their toes.  Swelling or bruising may also present after initial injury.

 

How is a calf tear diagnosed?

A calf tear is diagnosed through understanding the mechanism and history, clinical testing (functional movements, muscle strength, muscle length, palpation) and aided with imaging (eg. ultrasound, MRI).  

A physiotherapist will be able to determine the diagnosis and importantly rule out other pathology which can also cause pain in the calf region, this includes:

  • Achilles tendon tear
  • Achilles tendinopathy
  • Referral from the back
  • DVT
  • Sural nerve entrapment

 

Calf muscle tear severity

A calf strain can range from minor to severe and your physiotherapist will grade your injury dependent on their assessment.

Grade 1 – mild overstretching resulting in microtears of the muscle. Initially disabling for the first 2-3 days and then improves over 1-2 weeks.

Grade 2 – partial tearing of the muscle fibres. Full recovery of a grade 2 injury normally takes several weeks with good rehabilitation to return to normal activity.

Grade 3 – complete tearing or rupture of the muscle fibres. May take months to recover. In these cases imaging (eg. Ultrasound, MRI) would be recommended.

 

What is the best management?

Early management of a torn calf muscle involves reducing the swelling, bruising and pain. We recommend immediately after injury you Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate.  Rest may included the use of crutches to aid walking.

Following the acute phase (initial 48 hours) it is important to start regaining normal movement, strength and get back to full function.  This should be guided appropriately based on the severity of the injury.

Our Glen Iris physios are highly skilled in this, and will help optimise the recovery process to help you return back to normal function and with less risk of re-injury.  We utilise a variety of techniques including hands-on treatment (soft tissue/swelling release, taping, dry needling) and guided exercise program (strengthening, functional strength).  We also utilise our Alter-G Anti-Gravity treadmill which helps our clients return to earlier walking and running to aid their recovery process.