What are they?
The calf muscles refer to a group of muscles at the back of the lower leg that act to point the foot and toes down, away from the body. They play an important role in walking and running. A tear or strain of these muscles occurs when some or all of the muscle fibres are torn or overstretched. This is a common injury that can affect anyone from elite athletes to recreational exercisers.
How do injuries happen?
Calf tears are often caused by sudden, forceful movements or overuse of the calf muscles, leading to the rupture or strain of muscle fibers. Common mechanisms of injury are a quick take off during sports or simply going for a long walk when not accustomed. Factors that may increase the risk of a calf tear are previous calf tears that have not been fully rehabilitated, tight or weak calf muscles, poor balance and poorly fitting footwear.
What are the symptoms?
Typical symptoms of a calf tear are sharp pain over the site of the tear, especially with movement, swelling, bruising, and difficulty walking or standing. The severity of the injury can range from mild muscle strain to a complete tear, which will determine the appropriate treatment approach.
How can physiotherapy help?
The first step in managing calf tears is accurate diagnosis by a medical professional, who is able to rule out other conditions that might mimic a calf tear. They can determine the extent of the damage and create a personalised treatment plan based on your specific needs. This ensures that the rehabilitation process addresses the root cause of the injury, leading to better outcomes.
Reducing pain and inflammation is important in the first one to two days following the injury. The muscle may need support during this time, depending on the severity. Over time as the swelling and inflammation subsides, your physiotherapist will help to address any factors that contributed to the injury such as muscle weakness or imbalances. Calf tears often lead to stiffness and limited range of motion in the affected leg if not fully rehabilitated.
Physiotherapists implement targeted stretching and range of motion exercises to restore flexibility and prevent the formation of scar tissue that may impede recovery. Gradually, the patient can regain the ability to move the calf muscle without pain or discomfort. Rehabilitation past this point will progressively challenge the calf muscles without causing further damage. Strengthening these muscles not only aids in the healing process but also reduces the risk of future calf tears.
Strains and sprains are words that are used almost interchangeably when describing injuries, however they each have quite distinct meanings. The most straightforward explanation is that a “strain” refers to an injury in a muscle or tendon, while a “sprain” refers to an injury to a ligament. Here we describe what that means and how we treat strains and sprains differently.
Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect and hold bones to other bones at your joints. These are very strong parts of your anatomy and provide large amounts of support and stability to the body.
Some ligaments are so strong that sometimes a bone will break before the ligament will tear. When ligament fibres do tear, the nearby joint can feel unstable as it has lost some of its structural support.
A torn ligament will usually become painful and swollen, it may appear red and warm to touch and occasionally there will be some bruising. The pain will be worse with movement or if the ligament is placed under more stress. Occasionally, if a ligament has torn all the way through, the pain will not be as severe as it is with a partial tear.
Your physiotherapist can grade the severity of a ligament sprain, which will help guide treatment and expected recovery times.
Muscle strains are easy to confuse with ligament sprains, however, there are a few tell-tale differences. Following a muscle tear, it is more likely that you’ll feel weakness rather than instability. The pain will also be isolated over the muscle, rather than near a joint.
An injury to a ligament will be tender over the site of the ligament and special tests can be done to test for any joint laxity. Treatment is also slightly different as sprains will need more support and will sometimes even need to be taped or braced, whereas muscle strains will benefit from gentle movements earlier. In both cases, following the basic principles of rest, ice, compression and elevation is great advice in the early stages of any injury. Applying heat is not recommended until at least two or three days after the injury.
It is important to seek a professional opinion when recovering from both a strain and a sprain. It is very easy to re-injure an area while it's healing if undertaking too much activity too early and without correct rehabilitation. Speak to your physiotherapist for more information.