The calves are a group of muscles at the back of the lower leg. There are two main muscles in this group, gastrocnemius and soleus. These muscles insert into the Achilles tendon, one of the strongest tendons in the human body. Injury can occur in either muscle or the tendon. Strains can range from mild to very severe and in extreme case even rupture of the Achilles tendon. They are commonly caused by excessive forces during explosive contraction, eccentric control loading or when your calf muscles fatigue.
Imaging, such as an MRI or ultrasound, can help identify the severity of a calf injury but they are often unnecessary and rarely required.
What causes a calf strain? Calf strains often occur following a rapid eccentric load (change of direction/landing with a straight leg and pushing off) the muscle can overstretch causing the muscle to ‘tear’. Calf tears often occur during sports such as tennis, netball, squash with hard playing surfaces, or in contrast team sports that require endurance and power such as football codes where the muscle is enduring great stress under fatigue. People may experience calf pain and tightness prior to the actual injury.
What are the symptoms of a calf strain? A calf strain usually has a sudden onset – often caused from running or jumping Can feel pain of a moderate discomfort to a severe pain Some people feel a ‘pop’ or a ‘pull’ with an odd sensation of release or cramp Pain located in the back of the lower leg, above the ankle and below the knee Difficulty/pain on walking particularly lifting the heel of the ground Tenderness around site of pain/injury May have some swelling or bruising
If you suspect you’ve torn your calf the first thing you should do is initiate the R.I.C.E. principle, (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) this can help speed up the healing process. If severe you may need to use crutches. . Can massage help? Massage can help treat and prevent calf muscle strains and will aid in relieving muscle tension and pain.
Strengthen your calf. Improve nociceptive abilities and balance. Improving speed and agility. Give you the best chance to avoid re-injury.
Massage contraindications Massage should not be applied to fresh muscle strains. During the first 24 to 72 hours following a calf strain applying massage will make your injury worse, increase bleeding and prevent healing. How long the acute stage lasts will depend on how bad your injury is.
Why is massage important? Massage for any muscle injury is important, but particularly so for calf muscles. After the acute stage of healing has passed, massage will help stimulate blood flow, mobilise the muscle fibres, and release areas of muscle spasm. Another major benefit of massage, particularly in the later stages, is to soften newly formed scar tissue and help align new fibres.