What is the difference between a calf tear & a calf strain?
A calf strain, generally refers to a mild form of calf tear. A calf tear or strain is an injury of one of the two calf muscles (gastrocnemius & soleus). The calf muscles run from the back of the knee down to the heel where they form the achilles tendon.
A calf strain may cause pain & swelling in the area of injury. It can be sore running or walking on the affected leg.
It is important to differentiate a calf strain from an Achilles tendon injury. An achilles injury is more serious and takes longer to rehabilitate. Milder symptoms of calf strain may include a subtle onset of a pinpoint pain in the calf after exercise. A significant tear will generally give rise to a bruise in the area with purple discolouration evident within 48 hours. This may gradually work its way down to the ankle due to gravity.
Grading calf strain
A calf tear may be graded in severity from 1-3.
A grade 1 calf strain is the mildest form with minimal muscle fibre damage. This is characterized by mild intermittent aches while playing and potentially a delayed onset of pain until 1-3 days after exercise.
A grade 2 calf strain is more severe. There are a large percentage of muscle fibres damaged and the person will likely report a sharp pain in the calf that is increased when walking.
Grade 3 calf tears are associated with a sudden onset of severe pain in the back of the calf. The athlete will not be able to continue playing and there will be bruising evident at the injury site. In some cases a complete rupture of the calf muscle may take place.
What Causes a Calf Strain?
Calf strains occur due to an overload or acute injury to these muscles. In the case of an acute injury, the athlete may feel a sudden sharp pain while running or sprinting that prevents them from continuing. This may be accompanied by a popping sensation.
Treatment of Calf Injury
Surprisingly, the rest period required post-injury may be shorter than you think. Progressive exercises will be commenced within days of injury in most cases. Some people will apply the R.I.C.E. protocol. The R.I.C.E. acronym stands for rest, ice, compression & elevation. Some experts are no longer advocating for this form of treatment as it inhibits the bodies natural healing response to injury. When icing an area it is very important to ensure that the ice is not applied directly to the skin as this may cause skin burning.
When healing, a calf muscle will lay down scar tissue, which may predispose to re-injury on return to sport. Physiotherapy interventions aims to strengthen the tissue while healing and to minimise the formation of scar tissue. The early window of time post-injury is vital in stimulating an adequate healing process and preventing re-occurence of injury or ongoing pain.
To find out more regarding your calf muscle injury, contact Naas Physio Clinic on:
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