Calf Pain Overview

Calf Pain Overview

A calf can be very confusing to people who don't understand how it works. But the calf muscle often causes a lot of pain in the leg. There are many reasons why this may happen, but one reason is that they don't work well with other muscles in your leg and because they sit in an awkward position. In this guide, we will go over what specifically causes pain in the calf, the symptoms, and possible ways to diagnose yourself.

Understanding Calf Muscle Pain

Calf pain is defined as pain in the lower posterior (back) leg. Three muscles make up the "calf": the Gastrocnemius (the largest), Soleus, and Plantaris. There can be more than one root cause of this type of pain, which include: a strain of any one of these muscles, tendonitis in any of these muscles or tendons, or stress fractures in any of these bones.

Common Causes of Soleus Pain

There are a few common causes of calf pain. It can be caused when something presses against the muscle, like the Achilles tendon (which attaches your heel bone to your calf muscles). This can happen if you walk for a long period without stretching or warming up which is known as plantar fasciitis. Calf pain can also occur with other medical conditions, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) where blood clots form in veins.

It can often be hard to diagnose slower-onset injuries. You must get an accurate diagnosis so you don't end up wasting time with inefficient treatment options. To help make it easier, below is a list of conditions and symptoms that relate to lower leg pain in runners and joggers:

Muscle Cramps

Intense muscle cramps in the back of the leg can be caused by excessive exercise, sports techniques, and dehydration which leads to a feeling of fatigue. You might start to walk funny due to your leg spasms, or you may notice that it is hard to stand up completely straight. In some extreme cases there have been reports of muscle ruptures and even collapse if the condition is not dealt with before further degeneration.

Muscle Strain

Leg pain can commonly occur in the back of your lower leg and can be caused by a strain on the calf muscles or due to sudden pushing off, jumping, or sprinting. The injury is often described as a feeling of tearing that may also be accompanied by swelling or bruising if severe. The injury usually occurs near the knee close to the inside fibers that make up the largest calf muscle, the gastrocnemius.

If you have been suffering from lower back leg pain, it could be a result of a calf muscle strain or tear. This mild to severe pain can vary in intensity, ranging from a minor injury to a complete muscle rupture. A grade 1 calf strain does not need professional treatment, but grades 2 and 3 strains do.


The lower leg is comprised of two muscles at the back of the leg, which are responsible for extending the ankle and flexing the foot. These muscles create a tension-binding force on their connective tissue tendons, which can become inflamed. Achilles tendonitis is common in the general population and is caused by overuse of these muscles during physical activity or a repetitive twisting motion that can lead to inflammation. Healthy habits such as warming up and cooling down before exercise, stretching before and after exercising, and taking days off from running/sports can help significantly with preventing this condition.

Pulled Calf Muscle

The pulled calf muscle is a condition that may occur as a result of putting continuous strain on the calf or leg. As one pushes their body to its limits, muscles are stretched and contracted farther than they are supposed to and fibers break. This can result in torn or pulled muscle in the calf or leg.

Muscle Contusion

If a direct blow to the calf muscle occurs there could be some common side effects including pain, swelling, and bruising. This is most likely experienced from playing sports or from falling onto your calves. Not taking care of this injury properly can result in painful complications like blood clots. The leg will have to be monitored constantly for that reason if you don't take care of it yourself as soon as possible.  It's also important to make sure that activity doesn't resume until you've healed enough to prevent another fall down onto the legs because it could happen again otherwise, endangering your life even further in the future!

Differentiating Calf Pain

The lower leg is made up of many muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. Some are more serious than others, so it's crucial to understand each one to know how to treat them when they become injured. Understanding what causes pain in the lower leg can help you choose a treatment plan too! Always seek medical advice if you're ever unsure.

Sprained Joint or Broken Bones

If your ability to walk or stand is being restricted because of lower leg pain, you could have an ankle sprain or even a broken bone. The first symptom of an ankle sprain would likely be excruciating lower leg pain. If it doesn't feel like it could just be a mild injury, be sure to contact your doctor. In the case of broken bones, there's no doubt that you'll experience debilitating pain in the lower region of your leg. Therefore, you should stop any activity that triggers discomfort and contact a medical professional immediately if possible.

Shin Splints

Shin splints are an important side effect of playing sports, coaching a team, or just generally being active in physical form. It's a nasty injury that deserves attention, although it can be very treatable with the right techniques. Shin splints may lead to compartment syndrome which typically leads to nerve damage and the loss of leg function so don't try to ignore them!

Varicose Veins

Those dark, twisted veins are one of the major causes of aching legs. Varicose veins happen when weak vein walls and valves can't hold all the blood they're being asked to hold. This type of discomfort will typically be more superficial as compared to problems with deeper blood vessels that can cause cramps.

Blood Clot

Deep vein thrombosis, or a blood clot, is a medical emergency. If left untreated, the deep-vein blood clot can detach from your leg and travel through your body to block an artery in either the lungs or brain. Smoking, being pregnant or obese, a lack of activity, and certain drugs can also lead to DVTs. If you notice swelling and pain in one of your legs plus redness and warmth to the skin, get medical attention right away as soon as possible because it's a serious condition that may take some time to diagnose correctly.

Sciatica and Stenosis

Damaging your spine over time can lead to nerve damage and decreased mobility. Sometimes, a slipped disc (herniated or ruptured) puts too much pressure on the nerves that pass through the spine causing extreme pain in the legs. You might be exhausted, weak, and suffer from agony down below when you sit or stand. If your leg pain is strong enough to make you cry out in frustration, you will often find symptoms along the entire pathway of the nerve throughout your lower body rather than just one location like other leg injuries do.

Symptoms of Calf Muscle Pain

When you sustain a calf injury, the symptoms are typically straightforward. You'll have pain over or around the back of your knee and to the top of your ankle. The severity will depend on how much impact or overuse was sustained after you were injured.

  • Trouble walking without a limp or significant pain
  • Mild to severe pain in the knee, ankle, and/or lower leg
  • Swelling or redness with mild to moderate bruising
  • Moderate to severe pain when putting weight through the foot

Talk to your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Hearing a loud snap or noticing a hard lump in the calf muscle itself
  • The tightness and lower leg pain at night
  • Trouble bearing any weight at all through the injured leg
  • A significant change in strength in the lower leg

Diagnosing a Calf Injury

When the pain of a calf injury is sudden and severe, a self-diagnosis can be tricky. It's best to see your doctor if you experience any troubles with your ankles. There are so many things that body parts can go wrong with other than just our legs as your main mode of locomotion. Chronic calf pains should be evaluated by a vet because they are part of a much larger collection of symptoms that could point in the direction of some underlying conditions affecting you or even more than one on top of each other. The faster you get a proper diagnosis, generally speaking, the better it is for your pets since there is no telling how long the pain could keep them from running around or carrying out their daily functions properly!


First, your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about what happened to your injury (or make a note if you don't know how it occurred in the first place). Certain procedures may be conducted like the Thompson test to ensure that your joint is not suffering from something more serious.


If your doctor suspects that you are suffering from a bone fracture, sprain, or muscle strain, imaging techniques may be used to assess the severity and help in diagnosis. An x-ray is useful in ruling out a fracture, while CT scans or MRIs may be needed to examine connective tissue health.

Other tests

When blood clots or infections are of concern, further laboratory testing may be required. Specific tests can assess certain factors and the presence of infection if necessary.

Recovery Time for a Calf Injury

Calf injuries and the associated pain are common among many athletes. A calf injury extends to a variety of conditions, which range from muscle strain, and sprains, to ruptures or dislocations. The duration for which you are required to rest depends on the severity of your injury. More severe conditions require more time for your calf muscle to heal and as a result may take months until full recovery is reached. Thus, during this healing period, you must refrain from pushing yourself too much so as not to risk permanent damage or hindering the rate at which your body heals itself.

If one suffers a calf injury, the primary focus during treatment will be on relieving pain. This typically involves medications for pain relief like narcotics, cold therapy pack to help with inflammation, a Herbal Heating pad, and stretching. To determine what caused the first injury, and also help prevent future injuries from occurring to your cattle, physical therapy might be recommended. The target of this PT is going to be on regaining strength (through muscle training), flexibility via light massage, and coordination when the tissues are readily based on individual diagnosis by the physical therapist in charge of the case.

Dealing with Tight Soleus Muscles

If you're sick of being unable to play your favorite sport, jog, or exercise at the gym because of lower leg pain and aching, then you're in luck! Receive relief for your pains so that you can get back to enjoying life again! Follow your physician's treatment plan and watch how your strength returns as well as your ability to move throughout the day. Patience is key while gradually building upon leg strength, but be aware of warning signs such as unusual swelling or pain returned in areas previously affected by strained muscles and tendons.

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