The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Defeating Calf Strains!

Posted by on Tuesday, May 15th, 2012


No injury that keeps you from any activity you enjoy is fun, but some are more frustrating than others. For me, a calf strain is one of the most frustrating. Why? Well, they just…hurt. With every step you take. And they linger seemingly forever.

I’m sure there’s a better way to deal with calf strains than the way I handle them. My plan is to still try to run with one for as long as I can (“It stops hurting after about a mile! Until I finish!”), or do the dreaded elliptical, or spin classes if possible. In other words, not rest it nearly as much as I should.

With my disastrous healing regimen in mind, let’s find out more about calf strains and what smart people should do if they have them.

What is a calf strain? I knew you’d ask that! The soleus and gastrocnemius are the grown up medical terms for what we refer to ask the calf muscles, or the two big muscles that run down the back of your lower leg. When that muscle gets overextended, small tears happen, creating what we call a strain.

How do you know you have one? As you may have guessed, you feel pain down the back of your lower leg. If you have a serious strain, you may have heard a popping sound as you injured it (note: any time you hear a popping sound in your body, something not very good is happening).

Yeah, I don’t like those popping sounds. When is this likely to happen? A lot of things can cause a calf strain. Here’s a few:

  • Sudden change of direction: think tennis players darting on the court, a running back or soccer player cutting back and forth, you seeing someone you hate from high school.
  • Sudden acceleration: Think of a sprinter bursting out of the blocks, a marathoner trying to make a sudden push in that last .2 miles, me getting delusions of speed.
  • Sudden increase in training: Think of someone who runs one mile one day and feels so good that he decides to run twelve the next day.
  • Running on a very cold day without properly warming up (yes, I’ve done that).
  • Dehydration: That makes your muscles more vulnerable to tears.
  • Poor running mechanics, such as overpronation.
  • And a surprise one–you actually can get a calf strain while biking if you set the seat of your bicycle too high.

A calf strain can range: a grade 1, where you suffer some microtears in the muscle, with healing taking about two weeks; a grade 2, where you suffer a partial tear of the muscle, with a recovery time of about five to eight weeks; a grade 3, where you suffer a complete tear of one of the calf muscles. This takes about three to four months for recovery, with surgery a possibility.

Oh, that doesn’t sound fun. No, it doesn’t.

So what do I do if I have a calf strain? Start with the old standard Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (you can find calf wraps or sleeves at a drug store). You can also take anti-inflammatories to bring down the pain and swelling. To ensure a smooth recovery, though, you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to find out how bad the injury is and devise a plan of physical therapy. You may also be prescribed orthotics or heel inserts that will help rest your calf muscle as you heel. If you do have a grade 3 strain, the podiatrist may discuss whether you require surgery.

Aauggh, I don’t like any of this. How can I avoid getting a calf strain? Well, look at the causes, and be careful when doing those activities. If your sport of choice does require a lot of acceleration and cutting, then you can help your cause by doing a program of calf stretches that will keep your muscles loose. I know, not everyone loves to stretch–those minutes spent stretching seem like such a waste of time. Well, they’re not–take the time. Think of it as building a defense shield for your vulnerable calf! Core Performance has some great stretches here. You can also massage the area with a foam roller or even a tennis ball.

Calf strains: they hurt, they drag on, they…I hate them and I usually get one every year. Hey now, maybe after writing this I’ll finally learn and be able to skip a year!

If you have a calf strain or any foot or ankle injuries, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.