Calf muscle pain is a mild aching or a searing pain behind your shinbone in the back of the leg. Everyone’s experience will be different. When you have sudden pain or sprain after engaging in physical activity such as walking or running, the culprit is almost often muscle. However, if the pain appears out of nowhere, it could be a problem with your blood vessels.
The soleus and gastrocnemius muscles are the two primary muscles of the calf.
Plantar flexion is performed by the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles pulling on the Achilles tendon and heel bone. The movement of pressing the ball (front section) of your foot downwards is referred to as plantar flexion in medical terms. Plantar flexion occurs when you stand on your toes, press (or flooring) the gas pedal in a car, walk, and, of course, when you do calf workouts.
Calf muscle pain can affect anyone. Athletes and others who exercise and put too much stress on their calf muscles are more likely to develop calf injuries. Basketball players are more likely to get the illness as a result of their strenuous physical exercise. Due to muscle weakness or inactivity, people over 65 are at a higher risk of lower leg pain.
A study of soccer players found that medial gastrocnemius strains account for 12% of all muscle injuries. Soleus muscle strains are less common than gastrocnemius strains (located towards the centre of the calf).
What does calf muscle pain feel like?
Calf pain can vary from person to person, but it usually manifests as a dull, agonizing, or severe pain at the back of the lower leg, accompanied by tightness.
Warmth, redness, and discomfort in the calf region are symptoms of mild to moderate calf muscle inflammation. These are inflammatory symptoms(1) that elicit in order to compensate for muscle injury or damage. You don’t have to be concerned about this. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs will cure the problem totally.
Swelling may occur at the site of muscle discomfort. This is related to fluid retention in the muscles, which occurs as a result of muscle or tendon inflammation. Swelling in the calf could potentially be the result of a calf vein rupture. It may be secondary to the baker’s cyst in which the soft tissue is swollen behind the knee.
The calf muscles may also have bruises (skin discoloration). Internal bleeding is indicated by this symptom. You sustained an injury that ruptured your blood vessels in the calf region, resulting in blood accumulation and the production of a bruise.
Numbness in the calf or lower leg is possible. If this is the case, you might have nerve damage or sciatica. To avoid future difficulties, you should seek medical advice.
Your calf muscles may be ripped or badly wounded if you have lower leg weakness. In this instance, standing and moving your lower leg will aggravate your pain. Along with treatment, you’ll need to use compression and stay in bed completely.
Causes of calf pain include the following:
Claudication: Narrowed arteries might deprive your calf muscles of oxygen by preventing them from obtaining enough blood. When you exercise or walk, you may experience muscle soreness due to intermittent claudication(2). It’s more common among smokers, diabetics, and persons with peripheral artery disease.
Contusions: A direct strike to the muscle, such as a calf kick, can damage the muscle tissue or lead to Achilles tendon rupture. Bruising and discomfort are common side effects of calf contusions. Severe contusions can develop compartment syndrome, a severe condition in which blood is unable to reach the muscles in your legs.
Leg cramps, a common cause of calf pain, occur when muscles contract (shorten) quickly, resulting in a painful muscle spasm. Calf cramps are commonly referred to as a “charley horse.” Cramps can be caused by dehydration or excessive activity. A cramp may only last a few seconds, yet it can leave your muscle uncomfortable for hours. Leg cramps and leg muscle soreness are particularly common during the night.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): What appears to be calf muscle soreness in certain circumstances is actually DVT. A blood clot forms in your lower leg as a result of this venous thrombosis. It can lead to a life-threatening pulmonary embolism(3).
Strains: When you overstretch your calf muscles, you get a pulled calf muscle, also known as a calf muscle strain. A torn calf muscle can be caused by severe overstretching.
How do I stop calf pain?
Right now, the only thing you can do is offer ‘first aid.’ R.I.C.E (4)stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation, and it can be utilized to alleviate calf pain.
- Rest. If you have calf muscle soreness, avoid walking or running. Pushing through pain will only exacerbate the problem.
- Ice. Ice will help to reduce swelling and provide a numbing effect, which will help to relieve acute discomfort. An ice pack should be provided within 48 hours after the onset of pain to avoid frostbite. Ice should never be left on for longer than 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
- Compression. To keep the injured ankle immobilized and supported, use an elastic bandage or off-the-shelf compression wrap. Make sure the ankle isn’t overwrapped. If your toes turn blue, get numb, or lose sensation, the wrap is too tight. Wrap your calf in a compression bandage or wrap. Compression aids in the reduction of blood flow to the painful location and the reduction of edema.
- Elevation. Raise your leg above your heart, preferably above the level of your heart. Pillows, blankets, or cushions can be used to support the entire length of your leg.
Treatment for calf muscle pain
Calf pain could be caused by muscle inflammation. Use anti-inflammatory drugs(5) like ibuprofen or naproxen if this is the case. If the discomfort is extreme, you can also take pain relievers. Pain relief with medicine is one of the first steps to take. Mild to moderate pain can be relieved with over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Opioid drugs like tramadol and tapentadol, as well as topical therapies and sprays, are some of the other medications and therapy choices. However, overuse of such medications can be harmful.
Physical therapy(6) is another way to get the most out of your calf pain treatment. Physical therapists are professionals in both treating and preventing pain. Yours will check for areas of weakness or stiffness that could be increasing the load on the painful areas. They’ll also prescribe activities to help you move better and relieve pain in certain places.
If claudication is the cause of your calf pain, you should take drugs to enhance blood flow to your legs. This provides appropriate nutrition to your muscles and relieves calf muscle soreness. This is especially true for diabetics and those with peripheral vascular disease.
Stretching exercises to relieve calf pain
Stretching exercises(7) reduce muscle tension. It also allows you to remain flexible. You can consult the sports medicine department to learn stretching exercises. If leg movement is painful after a workout, you can do several stretches to alleviate the pain:
On the rear of the upper leg are the hamstring muscles. Sit on the floor and bend forward from your waist if they’re sore from leg day at the gym or running a half marathon. While maintaining your legs straight, try to bend as far as possible. For a total of 20 seconds, stay in this position. Three times, release and repeat.
You may also do a standing hamstring stretch like this: Cross your right foot over your left foot as you stand. Bend forward slowly until your forehead is in line with your knees. While in this position, keep your legs straight. For around 20 seconds, hold it. Once you’re fully erect, cross your left foot over your right foot and repeat the process.
Place yourself at arm’s length from a wall. Place both hands shoulder-width apart on the wall, then take a step back with one leg while pushing against the wall. For 20 to 30 seconds, stay in this position. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
Hip Flexor Stretches:
Sit with your back straight on the floor. In front of you, bring the bottoms of your feet together. Pull your heels close to your body and lower your knees to the floor. For 30 seconds, stay in this position.
How do I prevent calf muscle pain?
Here are a few tips that should help prevent calf pain.
Warm-up your calf muscles for at least 20 minutes before matches and training to improve extension and flexibility. This will enhance your muscles’ blood supply, preventing soreness during heavy exercise. This procedure will also strengthen your muscles by increasing the delivery of nutrients to them.
Stretching is one of the most significant ways of preventing sharp pain in the calf. Stretching before and after all workouts aids in the repair and strengthening of the calf, preventing pain and damage in the future. To aid muscle repair and growth, make sure you have adequate time to relax in between sessions.
Another important technique to avoid calf soreness is to stay hydrated. This is due to the fact that dehydration causes muscle cramps. When you keep your body hydrated, it increases your plasma volume and keeps the blood flow smooth. This nourishes your muscles and drains their metabolic wastes in an efficient manner, which ultimately lowers the tendency of muscle pain.
When beginning or increasing exercise, it’s critical to do it gradually. Injury can occur if you increase your activity level too quickly. If you increase the work load on your calf muscles immediately, it will produce micro tears in the muscles that will cause severe pain. To avoid this complication, You should work with a personal trainer or find an exercise regimen online.
Diabetics are at an increased risk of having calf pain due to peripheral neuropathy(8). This is a regular occurrence in diabetics with high blood sugar levels. To avoid developing peripheral neuropathy and calf muscle pain, keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Along with care and treatment, dietary changes are also required. Low salt and sugary items, which tend to raise blood pressure and cause calf pain, are among the modifications. You should also supplement your diet with enough minerals and electrolytes. Excessive consumption of cholesterol and trans fats increases the risk of blood clotting, particularly in the lower leg, which can result in calf muscle soreness.
Maintaining musculoskeletal health is an important part of healthcare. The national health service (NHS) is striving to provide healthcare services to everyone out there. Calf pain is disturbing especially for the sportspersons because it causes difficulty in walking even. You can manage acute pain by giving first aid. However, proper medical treatment is required for chronic calf pain. The causes of pain vary from mild to serious ones. Mild ones can be treated by usual medications and taking rest.
However, you need to consult your doctor or physiotherapist to treat the severe causes of your calf pain. If you need any guidance regarding orthopaedics, go to orthoinfo where health specialists will guide you about your health problem.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will I need surgery for my calf pain?
The majority of people do not require surgery to relieve their calf pain. People with damaged calf muscles, blood clots, or clogged arteries in the calf may require surgery in rare situations. So, if you have calf muscle tears or complete damage to your knee ligaments, you may need to undergo surgery. After all, it is your doctor who will advise you on the best course of treatment for you.
Should I be worried about my calf pain?
The slight calf soreness is usually nothing to be concerned about. However, you should be concerned about your pain and seek medical attention if you notice signs of infection, such as redness, warmth, or soreness, or if you have a temperature of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 C). A swollen or pale lower leg is a cause for concern.
- Tracy, R. P. (2006). The Five Cardinal Signs of Inflammation: Calor, Dolor, Rubor, Tumor … and Penuria (Apologies to Aulus Cornelius Celsus, De medicina, c. A.D. 25). The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 61(10), 1051–1052. https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/61.10.1051
- de Haro, J., Acin, F., Florez, A., Bleda, S., & Fernandez, J. L. (2010). A prospective randomized controlled study with intermittent mechanical compression of the calf in patients with claudication. Journal of Vascular Surgery, 51(4), 857–862. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvs.2009.10.116
- Di Nisio, M., van Es, N., & Büller, H. R. (2016). Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. The Lancet, 388(10063), 3060–3073. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(16)30514-1
- Hotfiel, T., Hoppe, M. W., Heiss, R., Lutter, C., Tischer, T., Forst, R., Hammer, C. M., Freiwald, J., Engelhardt, M., & Grim, C. (2021). Quantifiable Contrast-Enhanced Ultrasound Explores the Role of Protection, Rest, Ice (Cryotherapy), Compression and Elevation (PRICE) Therapy on Microvascular Blood Flow. Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2021.01.003
- Mackey, A. L., Mikkelsen, U. R., Magnusson, S. P., & Kjaer, M. (2012). Rehabilitation of muscle after injury – the role of anti-inflammatory drugs. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 22(4), e8–e14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2012.01463.x
- Minor, M. A., & Sanford, M. K. (1999). THE ROLE OF PHYSICAL THERAPY AND PHYSICAL MODALITIES IN PAIN MANAGEMENT. Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, 25(1), 233–248. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0889-857x(05)70062-4
- Herbert, R. D. (2002). Effects of stretching before and after exercising on muscle soreness and risk of injury: systematic review. BMJ, 325(7362), 468–468. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7362.468
- Knauf, M. T., & Koltyn, K. F. (2014). Exercise-Induced Modulation of Pain in Adults With and Without Painful Diabetic Neuropathy. The Journal of Pain, 15(6), 656–663. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2014.02.008