Calf strains are a common field sports injury and occur in everyday life also. They are also commonly seen in practice due to poor technique in gym classes particularly so in step aerobics classes.
The calf muscle group acts through the achilles tendon when it contracts to push the foot down at the ankle joint and is thus essential in walking, running and jumping. The calf is made up of the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles. The gastrocnemius is the most superficial of these muscles and is what the majority of people regard as their calf muscle. The gastrocnemius itself may be divided into two distinct portions; a medial head (inside of calf) and a lateral head (outside of calf). In the vast majority of calf strains it’s the medial (inside) head of the gastrocnemius that is torn.
Severity of calf injury is linked to duration away from sport or activity. Calf strains are graded on their severity from Grade 1 – partial tear of some muscle fibres, through Grade 2, to Grade 3 – complete muscle rupture.
Calf strains usually happen in sport or everyday life when you try to move off quickly from a standing position or accelerate (e.g. quick jog to cross the road). They’re extremely painful and sufferers will find it difficult to bear weight initially following a calf strain. It will be particularly difficult to get your heel flat to the floor and ladies may find that their symptoms are relieved somewhat by wearing of high heeled shoes.
Immediate management of acute calf strains revolve around the PRICE principle, as for all soft tissue injuries. We should Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. Deep tissue work and transverse friction massage, though painful, are necessary later on in order to realign deep fibres of the calf muscle following injury and to minimise the effect of scar tissue. Other treatment modalities such as dry needling and electrotherapy may also facilitate a speedier return to activity. Finally, calf strengthening to avoid recurrence of similar strains should be included in a holistic rehabilitation programme for the injured calf.