What are the best treatments for calf strains?
March 28, 2016
In the world of orthopaedics, calf strains get little attention. When people worry about injuring themselves, they think about tearing an ACL, breaking their wrists or overextending their shoulders. However, these injuries are less likely than calf strains. If people do not stretch out their calf muscles, this injury can happen to just about anyone. Here is what people should know about it, and how to treat it if it happens to them.
What is a calf strain?
A calf strain is different than a calf tear, so the two should not be confused, Dr. Joshua Hackel, a sports medicine physician at Andrews Institute, noted. Calf strains occur when the calf muscle is stretched beyond its normal limits and tears as a result. Conversely, a calf tear is when the tendon behind the calf muscle tears. Normally, calf strains are not extremely painful. Instead they will cause a dull pain in the lower leg, unless the injury is a grade three, or very severe. Grade one and grade two is damage to a few or some muscle fibers, but not all of them. A grade three injury is when the calf muscle is completely ruptured. People will often feel sharp pain and have a hard time walking on the leg during these cases.
"Among athletes, calf strains commonly occur to tennis players given the quickness of the game."
What causes a calf strain?
There are a variety of causes behind a calf strain, Hackel noted. However, certain motions tend to cause those muscle fibers to tear. For instance, stepping down stairs may lead to a strain. Or, if the person is an athlete, moving from side to side abruptly can also trigger a strain. Hackel noted that among athletes, calf strains commonly occur to tennis players given the quickness of the game and the athletes' sudden motions. However, it is also common among soccer and lacrosse players, as well as runners. It can even happen to non athletic people, especially if they are not active and attempt to try strenuous activity out of the blue. This most commonly occurs when the muscles have not been lubricated and warmed up, and the muscle is suddenly stretched. Hackel compared it to a rubber band. If a rubber band is warm, it is pretty easy to stretch. However, if a rubber band is cold and has not been flexed, it is harder to stretch and has a much higher risk of breaking. Calf muscles are the same way.
How long does it take to recover from a calf strain?
It can take anywhere between a few months to several months to recover from a strain, Hackel stated. Of course, this recovery time can vary depending on how well people take care of themselves. For instance, Hackel stressed that people should not directly walk on the affected calf. Instead, they should wear a boot or apply pressure more to the other leg. If people have severely torn their calf, the treatments may differ.
What kind of treatments can a patient with a calf strain expect?
There are different treatments people can try depending on their injury. "The first basic treatment method that all people should use is simply icing and elevating the affected area," Hackel noted. He added that anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can also help speed up the recovery process and reduce swelling. Sometimes, if the injury is more serious, people might have to undergo a rehabilitative stretching program. These programs, where a patient will work with a physical therapist, stretches the calf tendon and muscle as well as the Achilles tendon to help bring blood to that area and promote healing. Of course, if the injury is very severe it might take several months to get through this program successfully. At first, people might just be advised to stay off their leg and avoid stretching it at all.
Sometimes, the calf muscle does not heal as quickly as it should. Hackel noted this tends to happen to people who are middle or late-aged and do not have the rejuvenating properties that younger people have. In these cases, an orthopaedic physician will inject plasma into the calf muscle, which helps send a notification to the body that there is an injury that needs to be healed. Once this injection is made, usually the recovery process will begin.
Once people experience a calf injury, can they experience another?
Hackel stated that once the calf muscle has been injured, people are at a higher risk of injuring it again. While recovery can help bring those fibers back into place, normally they will not completely return to the way they were before. Usually, scar tissue is created in places where the muscle was torn and needed to regenerate itself. This scar tissue is not as flexible as calf muscle tissue is, and is more susceptible to tearing and other injuries.
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