The calf muscle is located on the lower back of the leg. Two muscles make up the calf: the larger gastrocnemius and the soleus. The calf muscle is responsible for lifting the heel when the knee is extended or flexed. A pulled calf muscle results in inability to walk, run or participate in sports. The type of pulled muscle depends on the severity of the strain. Pulled calf muscles are classified accordingly. Each different grade requires a different treatment plan and varying recovery times.
Playing sports that require immediate bursts of speed put you at risk for pulled calf muscles. These activities include basketball, tennis, hurdles, running, baseball, soccer, rugby and the long jump. Overexerted or fatigued muscles are at an elevated risk for strain. If you are active in cold weather or using tight muscles, the risk increases.
Grade 1 is the least severe type of pulled calf muscle. You will feel a small twinge of pain the back of your lower leg. It may be possible to continue the physical activity with this pain. For the next two to five days, there will be some tightness and pain. Recovery can take up to two to three weeks. This type of pulled calf muscle is a result of stretching or small tearing in the muscle fibres.
Recovery from a grade 2 pulled calf muscle can take one to two months. In this instance, there is partial tearing of the muscle. There will be sharp pain in the calf and mild bruising. Swelling may be present with tightness and aching that lasts for a week or more.
The worst type of pulled calf muscles is a grade 3 strain. There is obvious and considerable bruising with swelling. There is a complete tearing and/or rupture of the calf muscle. Onset of pain will be immediate on injury. The severe pain will be present in the middle of the largest part of the calf muscle. If there is a full rupture, the muscle can usually be seen bunched up at the top of the calf.
Immediately see a doctor or sports injury professional to identify the severity of the pulled calf muscle and develop a treatment plan. The plan can include sports massage, R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation), ultrasound, anti-inflammatory medications or a rehabilitation program.
After recovery from a pulled calf muscle, begin to strengthen the muscle. Prior to any activity that includes stretching, use heat on the calf muscle.
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