The symptoms of mild (grade 1) calf strains include a twinge of pain in the back of the lower leg, with tightness and discomfort for 2 to 5 days afterward. Severe (grade 3) strains are marked by immediate excruciating pain, usually at the V in the calf muscles, along with an inability to contract the muscles. Bruising and swelling can appear later. Treat and prevent a calf strain with these strategies.
What’s Going On In There And What’s The Fastest Way to Heal a Strained Calf Muscle?
The calf muscles are the gastrocnemius (the larger one, which attaches above the knee joint) and the soleus (the smaller one, attaching below the knee joint). Both attach to the heel via the Achilles tendon.
Muscle strains happen when you sprint and the muscle isn’t prepared for the effort expended. Contributing factors include overuse, muscle weakness or tightness, and overtaxing a “cold” muscle.
Fix a Calf Strain
Dynamic rest. Avoid lower-leg work as much as possible. Do core and upper-body work to maintain your fitness.
Ice it. Ice the muscles for 15- to 20-minute stretches during the first 24 hours to help reduce pain, inflammation and muscle spasm.
Try a compression bandage. Compression can help keep swelling down during the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury. Compression sleeves are easiest, and elastic bandages work, too, but be sure not to wrap it too tightly. If your foot turns color or gets cold, it’s not getting enough blood.
Elevate it. This can help draw fluid away from the injury. Try to keep your lower leg higher than your hip as much as possible during the first 48 hours after the injury.
Shorten the muscle. For the first couple days after the injury, heel pads can raise the heel, shortening the muscle to reduce the strain on it.
Try an NSAID. An anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen or naproxen can help.
Work on flexibility. Stretch the gastrocnemius by sitting on the floor with your leg straight out in front of you. Pull your toes and foot back, hold for several seconds, and relax. Repeat 10 times. To stretch the soleus, sit on the floor with your knees bent. Support yourself with your hands behind you as you lean back, lift your leg and point your toes toward the ceiling, holding for several seconds. Repeat 10 times. Another good option? Regular yoga practice.
Prevent a Calf Strain with These Exercises
The best way to prevent a calf strain in the first place is building limber lower legs. An underlying lack of flexibility in your calf muscles and Achilles tendon is usually the primary cause of lower-leg problems.
Exercise #1: Straight-Leg Calf Stretch
Stand about 2 feet in front of a wall in a staggered stance, right foot in front of your left. Place your hands on the wall and lean against it. Shift your weight to your back foot until you feel a stretch in your calf. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds on each side, then repeat twice for a total of three sets. Perform this routine daily, and up to three times a day if you’re really tight.
Exercise #2: Bent-Leg Calf Stretch
Perform this the same as the straight-leg calf stretch, only move your back foot forward so the toes of that foot are even with the heel of your front foot. Keeping your heels down, bend both knees until you feel a comfortable stretch just above the ankle of your back leg. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds on each side, then repeat twice for a total of three sets. Perform this routine daily, and up to 3 times
a day if you’re really tight.
Exercise #3: Calf Roll
Place a foam roller under your ankle, with your leg straight. Cross your other leg over your ankle. Put your hands flat on the floor for support and keep your back naturally arched. Roll your body forward until the roller reaches the back of your knee. Then roll back and forth. Repeat with other calf. (If this is too hard, perform the movement with both legs on the roller.)
Exercise #4: Farmer’s Walk On Toes
Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells and hold them at your sides at arm’s length. Raise your heels and walk forward (or in a circle) for 60 seconds. Be sure to stand as tall as you can and stick your chest out. This exercise not only works your calves but also improves your cardiovascular fitness. Choose the heaviest pair of dumbbells that allows you to perform the exercise without breaking form for 60 seconds. If you feel that you could have gone longer, grab heavier weights on your next set.
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 33-time marathon finisher and 13-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.