The calf muscle is a complex muscle that can be difficult to understand for some people. However, it is a common source of leg pain for many individuals. There are several reasons why this may occur, one of which is that the calf muscle does not always work in sync with other muscles in the leg due to its unique position. This can lead to discomfort and pain.
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 a 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, including a strain of any of these muscles, tendonitis in any of these muscles or tendons, or stress fractures in any of these bones.
Common Causes of Calf 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 long without stretching or warming up, 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. It would help get an accurate diagnosis to save time with efficient 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:
Intense muscle cramps in the back of the leg can be caused by excessive exercise, sports techniques, and dehydration, leading to 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.
Leg pain can commonly occur in the back of your lower leg and can be caused by a strain on the calf muscles or 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 inner fibers that comprise the largest calf muscle, the Gastrocnemius.
If you suffer from lower back leg pain, it could result from a calf muscle strain or tear. This mild to severe pain can vary in intensity, ranging from minor injuries to complete muscle ruptures. A grade 1 calf strain does not need professional treatment, but grades 2 and 3 strains do.
The lower leg comprises two muscles at the back of the leg 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 prevent 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 should, and fibers break. This can result in torn or pulled muscle in the calf or leg.
If a direct blow to the calf muscle occurs, some common side effects could occur, including pain, swelling, and bruising. This is most likely experienced from playing sports or falling onto your calves.
Not caring for this injury properly can result in painful complications like blood clots. The leg must be monitored constantly if you don't take care of it yourself as soon as possible.
It's also important to ensure 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!
Differentiating Calf Pain
The lower leg comprises 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 also help you choose a treatment plan! Always seek medical advice if you need more clarification.
Sprained Joint or Broken Bones
If your ability to walk or stand is restricted because of lower leg pain, you could have an ankle sprain or even a broken bone. The first symptom of an ankle sprain is excruciating lower leg pain. If it doesn't feel like it could be a mild injury, please 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 immediately stop any activity that triggers discomfort and contact a medical professional.
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 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!
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 discomfort will typically be more superficial than problems with deeper blood vessels that can cause cramps.
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 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 immediately 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 leg pain.
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 nerve pathway throughout your lower body rather than just one location, as 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 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
Calf Pain Treatment
The treatment for calf pain depends on the underlying cause. Sometimes, the pain may go away independently with rest and over-the-counter pain medication. Other treatments that may be helpful include:
Stretching the calf muscles can help to relieve pain and improve flexibility.
Strength training exercises can help to strengthen the calf muscles and reduce pain.
Applying Sacksythyme's Cold therapy pack to the affected area for 20 minutes at a time several times a day can help to reduce inflammation and pain.
SACKSY THYME Cold Therapy Pack for Calf Pain:The SACKSY THYME Cold Therapy Pack is a versatile product that can be used in a variety of ways. To use it for calf pain, simply place the pack on your calf muscles and apply pressure to the area. The pack will instantly soothe the sore muscles and offer a cooling effect that will help reduce inflammation.
Wrapping the affected area with an elastic bandage can help to reduce swelling.
Elevating the affected leg above the heart can help to reduce swelling.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help to reduce pain and inflammation. Prescription medications, such as cortisone injections, may also be helpful.
Most people with calf pain can find relief and return to normal activities with proper treatment.
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.
A vet should evaluate chronic calf pains 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, 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, like the Thompson test, may be conducted to ensure your joint is not suffering from something more serious.
If your doctor suspects you are suffering from a bone fracture, sprain, or muscle strain, imaging techniques may be used to assess the severity and help diagnose. An x-ray is useful in ruling out a fracture, while CT scans or MRIs may be needed to examine connective tissue health.
Further laboratory testing may be required when blood clots or infections are of concern. 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 various conditions, ranging 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 relieving pain. This typically involves medications for pain relief like narcotics, a cold therapy pack to help with inflammation, a Microwaveable Heating pad, and stretching.
Physical therapy might be recommended to determine what caused the first injury and also help prevent future injuries from occurring to your cattle. The target of this PT will be 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.
How to Prevent Calf Pain?
Here are some things you can do to help prevent calf pain:
- Stretch regularly: Stretching the calf muscles can help to keep them flexible and less likely to get injured.
- Warm up before exercising: Warming up before exercising can help to prevent injuries.
- Cool down after exercising: Cooling down after exercising can also help to prevent injuries.
- Wear supportive shoes: Shoes that provide good arch support can help to reduce stress on the calf muscles.
- Avoid running on hard surfaces: Running on hard surfaces can increase the risk of shin splints and stress fractures.
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 you can return to enjoying life again!
Follow your physician's treatment plan and watch how your strength returns and your ability to move throughout the day. Patience is key while gradually building upon leg strength. Be aware of warning signs such as unusual swelling or pain returned in areas previously affected by strained muscles and tendons.