Calf strains are a very common injury that we see every day here at Fixio Physio Dee Why. Calf strains usually present as quite a sharp, localised pain that you can pinpoint most often on the inside part of the calf that happened whilst doing an activity that uses your calf muscle such as running or jumping. It is normal to have a lump, swelling and discolouration following the calf strain due to the disruption of muscle fibres and hence bleeding.
What is a muscle strain?
A strain simply put is a tear in the muscle fibres. To be specific, physios like to categorise these in 3 simple ways. A grade 1 strain is a very small micro tear of the muscle fibres, grade 2 strain is a partial tear of the muscle and a grade 3 is a complete tear of the muscle. Depending on what level calf strain you have will change your treatment and healing time frames.
Okay so now a calf strain?
The calf is just a lay term we use to describe two specific muscles at the back of the shank that act together. The two muscles are the gastrocnemius and soleus if you enjoy Latin. Essentially these two muscles primary function is to point your whole food towards the ground – think of a ballerina standing on their toes – the calf muscle is fully firing during this position. This action is also vital in everyday activities such as walking, running, and jumping.
Why did this calf strain happen to me?
Generally, we strain a muscle by putting more force through the muscle than it can normally tolerate i.e. it works so hard that it physically tears itself apart. Sometimes the muscle strain can be from overuse and other potential biomechanical factors e.g. your foot arch rolling inwards. If you have had a nerve injury (like the sciatica nerve aka sciatica) there is the potential for the calf to have torn in trying to protect the nerve. This is key to exclude in your first session which each of our physios will do.
What can I expect at my first session at Fixio?
At Fixio we know any calf strain no matter how small (grade 1) or large (grade 3) can be frustrating and stopping doing what you love. To begin we’ll ask you about when the calf pain happened and what activities you were doing when it occurred. The sooner you come after injury the faster we can get you on a treatment path to recovery and ensure a complete recovery. We will also exclude other potential diagnosis’s around the calf area such as DVT, knee pain and referred lower back pain. We will ask about any goals or upcoming events you need to get it right for. Next we will do some specific movements of the knee and ankle and gently activate the calf to ascertain what grade strain you have and to measure exactly where your range of movement and strength is currently and compare this to your unaffected leg. Then we will map out our individually tailored treatment program for you!
How does Physiotherapy help my Calf Strain?
First off, we want to help you with any of the pain and swelling around the calf. This will take a different amount of time depending on what grade your calf strain is. This can involve the tried and tested RICE method (link). Other strategies we use to help with pain and breakdown swelling can be massage, taping, acupuncture, and range of motion exercises.
The next part of treatment generally focuses on progressively strengthening the calf. We know one of the biggest risk factors for future calf strains is previous strains, so we need to get that calf firing on all cylinders again! As a general rule of thumb, we want to get your sore calf to be at least as strong and flexible as your other non-affected calf to help prevent recurrences. During this progressive strengthening program, we will look at exactly what your goals are e.g. if you’re a ballerina and have to hold en pointe for 3 minutes we will give you exercises focusing on the endurance of the calf. Or maybe you are a long-distance runner and we may need to do a complete overhaul of your lower limb strengthening routine and look at potential overuse issues that may crop up in your program. Or maybe you want to just be able to walk the dog around the block; we can certainly help with that as well!