Torn calf muscle: causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention and treatment…


A torn calf muscle, also known as a calf strain, is a common injury that occurs when the muscles in the back of the lower leg become torn. Tears in the calf muscles can be partial or total (rupture). According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, calf strains are the most common muscle injury in athletes, accounting for approximately 10% of all muscle strains. In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of a torn calf muscle.

Cause – Why do calf muscles tear?

This injury is commonly caused by placing too much stress on the calf muscles or by overstretching then with abrupt movements. This injury can be caused by sudden pivots, leaps, or abrupt pauses during sports.
Also if you overuse your calf muscles without rest, you may develop tears over time. Tears can occur in those who return to activity too soon after a previous calf injury.

There are several factors that can increase your risk of suffering a calf strain. These include:
• Sudden acceleration or deceleration
• Sudden change in direction
• Overuse or fatigue
• Weak calf muscles
• Tight or inflexible muscles
• Wearing inappropriate or worn-out shoes

Symptoms

The symptoms of a calf strain can vary in severity, but common signs include:
• Sudden pain in the back of the lower leg
• Calf muscle swelling and bruising
• Calf weakness including an inability to bear weight
• Difficulty walking or standing on the affected leg
• A popping or tearing sensation

In extreme cases a torn calf muscle can result in the following two consequences:

  1. Compartment syndrome – Significant oedema that prevents blood from reaching the muscles.
  2. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – Blood clot in your leg.

Diagnosis – How do I know if my calf muscle is torn?


If you suspect that you have suffered a calf strain, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment options

1. RICE

After establishing that you have a torn calf muscle, your healthcare professional may prescribe RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation to reduce swelling and pain.

Rest: If you get calf pain, halt all physical activity and rest your leg. Pushing through pain might exacerbate the situation. For many days, you may be needed to use crutches or wear a boot.

Ice: Application of an ice pack or cold compress to your calf muscles every two hours for 20 minutes. Do not put ice straight on your skin.

Compression: Wrap your calf in a compression wrap or sleeve. Compression reduces blood flow to the sore location and reduces swelling.

Elevation: Raise your leg to an elevated posture, preferably above your heart level. Pillows, blankets, or cushions can be used to support the whole length of your leg.

2. Physical therapy

During the recovery period, Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you regain strength, flexibility and range of motion in your calf muscles. Regardless of the severity of the calf strain, it is important to pay attention to your body’s signals and not push yourself too hard during recovery or risk further injury or delay in healing times.

3. Surgery

In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged muscle.

4. Prevention

To prevent calf strains, it is important to:

• Light physical activity and calf stretches to build up the muscle
• Allow calf muscles to rest between exercise and sports activities
• Stretch regularly
• Wear supportive, well-fitting shoes
• Gradually increase the intensity and duration of physical activity
• Take regular breaks to allow your muscles to rest
• Avoid overtraining
• Maintain good overall muscle strength and flexibility

FAQ:
How long does it take for a torn calf muscle to heal?

Recovery times for torn calf muscles can vary widely, depending on the severity of the injury. Generally, a mild tear may take three to four weeks to heal if rest, ice and elevation are practised regularly. The more serious the tear, however, the longer it may take for recovery. It is not uncommon for major tears to require two months or more of healing time.

It is crucial to know that even after a torn calf muscle heals, scar tissue may remain in the muscle. That tissue isn’t as powerful as the muscle around it. This increases your chances of calf muscle tears and other lower-leg ailments in the future.

Should you stretch a calf tear?

As the healing process begins, it is critical to begin a series of exercises that gently stretch the calf muscle, allowing it to repair back to its full length. These exercises can help you regain normal function and movement in your lower leg while also lowering your risk of subsequent damage.

Should you massage a calf tear?

The No HARM regimen, which includes no heat, drink, running or exercise, or massage, should be followed. This will aid in reducing bleeding and oedema in the damaged region.

Can a calf tear heal on its own?

Conservative therapies, such as rest, ice, compression, and elevation, generally repair calf muscle strains within a few weeks. Surgery may be required in rare circumstances.

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