If you’re a runner, you know injuries are inevitable. Luckily, most of the time they’re minor and don’t derail your running program for long. A strained calf muscle can run the gamut from a nuisance to serious, but it always requires some time off from hitting the pavement, which, depending on your perspective, could be a good thing -- any excuse to sit on the couch with a latte and recuperate.
Signs of Calf Strain
A strained calf muscle is painful, stiff and weak. You’ll notice the pain particularly when pushing off of your foot or when you’re standing on tiptoe. Bruising may be present if the tearing caused broken blood vessels. You might even feel a popping sensation at the time of injury. Calf strains are graded according to how severe they are. A grade one strain is a stretched muscle with small tears in the muscle fibers. You’ll need about two to three weeks to fully recover from a grade one strain. A grade two strain is a partial tearing of the muscle fibers in the calf; recovery can take one to two months. The most severe calf strain is a grade three, which is a complete tearing of the muscle fibers in the calf. Full recovery from a grade three strain can take longer than three months. A doctor might recommend an MRI for a grade three strain, which can help predict how long you’ll be out of commission.
According to NYU Langone Medical Center, you can strain your calf through overuse or overexertion, muscle fatigue or inadequate stretching. The injury happens when you stretch your calf muscle beyond the amount of tension it can take. It tends to happen when the calf muscle is stretching and bearing weight simultaneously -- like when you accelerate or abruptly change direction during a run.
Muscle strain is generally treated with the RICE method: rest, ice, apply compression and elevate, which limits swelling and promotes healing. Take it easy for 48 to 72 hours after a calf strain injury. Wrap some ice in a towel or cloth and apply the cool compress for 15 to 20 minutes, four times a day for the first few days. If your leg is swelling, wrap an elastic compression bandage around the lower part. Elevate your leg as much as possible during the first 24 hours to minimize swelling. If you have significant swelling or pain, contact your health care provider.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends daily stretching and a well-balanced diet to nourish your muscles and prevent injury. Stretch before and after your run to reduce stress on your muscles. For calf stretches, do six reps of 10 seconds each. Repeat these stretches throughout the day to further strengthen your calf muscles and prevent future injury. Strong calf muscles can better withstand physical stress.
Based in Toronto, Christine Pillman has worked as a writer and editor since 1996. She has worked for Harlequin Enterprises, "Scott's" directories and "Boards" magazine. Pillman earned an honors B.A. in English from the University of Toronto, as well as a diploma in book and magazine publishing from Centennial College.