Calf strains, though common, can be devastating to your training, requiring 4-6 weeks of rest to fully recover. They are usually caused by a lack of flexibility in the calf being asked to absorb the shock of a certain duty, such as running or squatting. The heel strikes the ground 900-1200 times every mile! When the calf fibers stretch more than 8% of their resting length, they fail. When they are stretched due to force, they become weakened and blood is allowed into the muscle. This injury is most common in men between the ages of 30 and 50.
Calf stretching is easy and only takes a few minutes when done throughout the day and will greatly reduce your likelihood of injury. To properly stretch your calf, turn your toe in 200for the leg that is stretching. Roll your weight to the outside of your foot so that you isolate the stretch to the calf. This stretch doesn’t have to be static; you can softly bounce as you lean into and out of the stretch, take your knee in a clockwise and counter-clockwise circle, etc to really maximize the effectiveness of the stretch.
Your symptoms can include mild to moderate aching, even when resting, and sharp pain when trying to use the muscle itself. Swelling is oftentimes present and walking may be difficult. You may have some discoloration of the skin on the calf, due to the bleeding.
So now what? Well, really, you should be evaluated by a Physical Therapist, ideally one trained in sports injuries, to determine the extent of the injury. Some strains will only require a bit of downtime, before you’re allowed to begin stretching and doing specific exercises to promote full healing. Other times, the muscle will require weeks of rest before beginning rehabilitation. But if you choose to return to play too soon, you can easily do more damage and set yourself back even further. The goal of rehabilitation is to restore fiber alignment and tissue elasticity versus a wad of inelastic scar tissue, which will cause re-injury.
As a general guideline:
Grade I strains usually come with mild discomfort and may only minimally restrict activity, if at all. Healing time on average is 7 to 10 days.
Grade II strains usually come with more moderate discomfort with walking and the inability to perform activities such as running, jumping, squatting, without pain. Grade II strains may have some noticeable swelling and bruising as well. Healing time on average is 4-6 weeks.
Grade III strains are severe. You are pretty much unable to weight bear and may experience severe pain, muscle spasm, swelling, and significant bruising. Healing time on average is 3 months.
As we said, based on the grade of the strain will determine when you can begin rehab. During rehabilitation, your therapist should be addressing the tightness of your calves as well as any soft tissue adhesions that need to be resolved. They will also need to make sure that your other muscles such as hamstrings, glutes, and IT band are not restricted either, which could be causing you to compensate and put more stress on your calves.
If your strain is minor and you plan to self-manage, then use anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen in combination with ice and elevation. If your symptoms worsen or if they seem to last longer than they should, then you should get evaluated by a physical therapist.
Have more questions or need an evaluation yourself? We offer $45 injury assessments at our office. Give us a call or send us an email to get started.
Written by: Jess Champion