Calf muscle tear
Pain experienced in the calf muscle, which is the lower part of the leg, is often the cause of a torn or pulled calf muscle. A torn calf muscles has similarities to an Achilles tendon tear or rupture, although it occurs higher up the back of the leg.
Causes of a calf muscle tear
Changes in direction or acceleration can be the cause of calf muscle tears. Though, there have also been cases of calf muscles being torn simply from walking. Calf muscles can be minor or severe, with a specialist grading the injury from one to three.
Symptoms of a calf muscle tear
A sign of a pulled or torn calf muscle may feel like you have been hit in the leg because there is sudden pain at the back of the calf. You will then experience bruising, pain and swelling in the calf muscle, which can make walking and standing on your toes difficult.
Grade one: When the muscle is stretched causing small micro tears in the muscle fibres. Depending on your compliance, recovery takes approximately 2-3 weeks.
Grade two: When there is partial tearing of muscle fibres. With good rehabilitation, full recovery takes approximately 4-8 weeks.
Grade three: This is the most severe grade of calf strain. This grade is when there is a complete tearing or rupture of muscle fibres in the lower leg. In some severe cases, surgery may be needed, though if not, full recovery can take 3-4 months.
Treatment of a calf muscle tear
Calf muscles are very common, occurring when people return to sport too quickly and have not completed their rehabilitation program. Research has established that there are six phases in the rehabilitation process to treat and prevent these injuries.
Stage one – Early Injury Protection: Pain reduction and anti-inflammatory phase
As with most soft tissue injuries the initial treatment is RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
Your calf muscle is a strong set of powerful muscles that produces force to hop, run and jump. In the early phases, you’ll be able to walk without a limp, so your calf needs some rest from weight-bearing loads. It’s important to note that when crutches or a walking boot are the most suitable forms of treatment, you may need to be non or partial weight-bearing.
Ice: A simple and easily accessible way to reduce your pain and inflammation is by applying ice. Apply ice for 20-30 minutes every 2-4 hours when you first notice the injury becoming warm or hot.
Compression: To stop the blood from pooling in your foot, use a compression bandage or kinesiology supportive tape.
Elevation: Elevating your foot above your heart will reduce excessive swelling around your calf and lower leg.
Stage two: Regain full range of motion
If protected properly, your injured calf will successfully reattach. Mature scar formation takes at least six weeks. To prevent the scar tissue from re-tearing in the future, you should aim to optimally remould it.
Massage and muscle stretches will help hear your scar tissue. Signs that it is healed is when you can walk without a limp and can perform calf stretches with a similar end of range stretch feeling.
Stage three: Restore concentric muscle strength
The restoring process of the calf muscle is a gradual progression from non-weight bear to partial and then eventually full weight bear and resistance-loaded exercises. On assessment findings, your chiropractor or physiotherapist may also advise that you require strengthening for other leg, lower core muscles and gluteal.
Stage four: Restore eccentric muscle strength
Calf muscles work in two directions by pushing you up (concentric) and control you down (eccentric). Most calf muscle tears occur during the controlled lengthening phase. As and when your injury healing allows, your chiropractor or physiotherapist will guide you on calf strengthening programs.
Stage five: Restore high speed, power, proprioception and agility
Calf muscles injuries often occur during high-speed activities that place pressure on your body. To prevent a recurrence as you return to sport, your chiropractor or physiotherapust will guide your recovery with exercises of rehabilitation to improve your sporting performance and prevent a recurrence.
Your chiropractor or physiotherapist, to prepare you for light sport-specific training, will develop an agility, speed, power, and proprioception program for you.
Stage six: Return to sport
To return to sport safely and injury-free, you will require specific sport related exercises and a customised training regime.
Depending on the demands of your sport, your chiropractor or physiotherapist will discuss timeframes, goals and training schedules with you to support your return to sport with the main objective being a full agility, speed, power and function with increased knowledge on how to minimise any further injuries.