How to Treat a Strained Calf Muscle

Evaluation of the Severity of the Strain

    A strained calf muscle is very common, not just in track and field but in other sports as well. A strained calf muscle occurs when the muscle is forcibly stretched beyond its limits, resulting in a tear. This tear is referred to as a strain. Strains are graded in three levels, with the most severe level taking the most recovery time. If you follow the prescribed regimen for treatment of your strained calf muscle, your recovery will still take time, but it will be far less than if you had not treated it.

  1. A grade-one calf strain involves cramping and tightness and pain when the muscles are either stretched or contracted. This means that there are "micro-tears" in the calf. Recovery from this type of strained calf muscle can be expected in about two weeks.

  2. Is This an Emergency?

    If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

  3. A grade-two calf strain produces more severe pain and is very tender to the touch. There may be bruising visible below the site of the injury. This means there has been partial tearing of muscle fibers. Full recovery from this type of strained calf muscle cannot be expected in less than five to six weeks.

  4. With a grade-three calf strain, the patient cannot move without very severe pain, and there is likely to be a lump or bulge consisting of soft tissue in the area of the injury. There has been a complete tearing of muscle fibers. This type of strain needs to be seen by a doctor because it could possibly require surgery. Full recovery from this type of strained calf muscle will probably take three to four months.

Treatment of the Strained Calf Muscle

  1. If you have any doubts about the severity of your sprain, see a sports injury professional. Do not use this article as official diagnosis of your strained calf muscle.

  2. The first line of defense is ice therapy. Apply ice packs to the area of injury. Apply the ice for 20 minutes at a time and repeat at least four times a day for several days. Do not apply ice directly to skin. Use a thin towel between the ice and the skin.

  3. Use a compression bandage to limit the swelling. Wrap from the toes up to the injury to prevent swelling below the wrapping. Be careful not to wrap the strained calf muscle too tightly. The bandages have elasticity built into them, so they will give compression without overly tight wrapping.

  4. Take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen or naproxen. If you cannot take anti-inflammatory medicines, you may want to take acetaminophen for pain. Follow directions on the bottles to assess dosage and consult a doctor if you have any questions about dosage. Always check with a doctor if you are taking prescription medications and have any concerns about drug interactions.

  5. Rest your calf muscle. Yes, get off your feet and let that strained calf muscle have some rest. Put your feet up--elevate them so they are higher than your heart. The elevation will help control the swelling. This is especially important within the first 24 hours after the injury. After that, take it really easy for a day or two. When you do get back on your feet, don't do activities that will cause more pain. This seems like common sense, but far too many people don't take it seriously and just go back to their normal running around. Then they may wonder why their strained calf muscle is taking so long to get better!

  6. To help you remember what to do, here is a commonly used mnemonic: RICE--Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.

  7. After the pain is gone, you may progress to a regimen of gentle stretching and strengthening. Pull your toes up and hold for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat five to 10 times. Point your toes downward, causing your calf to contract, and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat five to 10 times.

  8. For more advanced rehabilitation exercises for your strained calf muscle, see a sports injury professional.