A pulled calf muscle occurs when any of your calf muscles is stretched or torn. Your calf is composed of three muscles: the gastrocnemius (largest of the three), soleus and the plantaris. Although anyone can get a pulled calf, the condition commonly occurs in people engaged in sports requiring sudden running and jumping. Pulled calf is also called calf strain.
Causes of Pulled Calf Muscle
Often the cause of a pulled calf muscle is sudden or jerking movements of the leg and foot. People who perform sudden jumping, sprinting and walking or running uphill are at risk of getting their calf pulled. Increasing your running mileage too fast and too soon may also increase your risk.
Not warming up before an activity, having a foot abnormality, or tightness of the calf may also lead to the occurrence of a pulled calf.
If stretching occurs in your calf but without tearing, symptom of pain is usually mild with or without swelling. This is called a grade I (mild) strain. In grade 2 or moderate strain, there is pain and swelling and you may have difficulty moving your injured leg.
Symptoms of a grade 3 calf strain are usually severe. In a grade 3 strain, the muscle has been torn completely or most of the muscle fibers are torn. Severe pain, tenderness and swelling occurs. You may also have muscle weakness.
A thorough physical examination and evaluation may be all that is needed to diagnose a pulled calf. Sometimes, imaging tests may be needed, which is often used to confirm a diagnosis.
Mild pulled calf can be successfully treated with RICE therapy, which involves rest, icing, compression and elevating your injured limb. The goal of initial treatment is to reduce pain and swelling. Returning to your usual activity immediately is not advisable when your calf has not fully healed. Performing light exercises or physical activities, though, can help speed up your healing.
Moderate and severe pulled calf muscle should be seen by a qualified physical therapist or doctor to ensure proper diagnosis and prompt treatment is administered. You may be advised to use crutches to allow healing and avoid adding stress to your injury. RICE therapy and other treatment options will be provided by your health care provider.
Surgery may be recommended for severe pulled calf. You will need to have your limb immobilized to allow full healing. Use of crutches is often recommended following your surgery.
In all cases, physical therapy is often recommended. Your physical therapist will formulate a comprehensive physical therapy treatment plan for your pulled calf. Often, performing exercises is an integral part in your recovery and return to your highest function.
Physical Therapy Treatment Options for Pulled Calf
- Ice / Hot Pack application
- Electrical stimulation
- Therapeutic ultrasound
- Range of motion (ROM) exercises
- Stretching exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Massage / Soft tissue mobilization
- Recommend a walking aid (e.g. crutches, cane)
- Gait (walking) training
- Patient education
Your physical therapist will also provide you with a home care program including practicing RICE therapy and exercises.