Torn calf muscle Q&A

Whether you play football, rugby, tennis, cricket or any other sport, sustaining an injury, such as a torn calf muscle, can really stop you in your tracks.

We speak to Senior Physiotherapist Katie Baines from BMI Winterbourne Hospital to help answer some of the most common questions.

What are the signs of a torn calf muscle?

Katie Baines - Senior Physiotherapist

The signs of a calf injury can vary significantly due to the severity of the tear, but they usually involve a sudden loss of power with an inability to stretch the calf muscle. This results in limping or poor weight bearing during walking. There’s normally a lot of swelling and the tissues can become hot to touch. There can also be an obvious dip in the muscle belly which is most common at the mid portion.

What does a torn calf muscle feel like?

Katie Baines - Senior Physiotherapist

A sudden sharp pain at the back of the lower leg is an indication of calf injury. However, if this feeling is accompanied by a very sharp pain (likened to the feeling of being shot), then this is often an indication of severe tearing or rupture. The calf muscle will often be tender to touch at the point of injury and can have symptoms of cramp which worsens when the muscle is stretched.

What causes a torn calf muscle?

Katie Baines - Senior Physiotherapist

Calf injuries usually occur as a result of a sudden pushing off movement or from excessive over-stretching of the calf muscles. For example, when performing jumping activities or during quick changes of direction or acceleration.

What are the three grades of muscle strain?

Katie Baines - Senior Physiotherapist

The three grades of muscle strain are:

  • Grade 1: The muscle is stretched causing some small micro tears in the muscle fibres. Recovery typically takes approximately 2 to 4 weeks if you do all the right things.
  • Grade 2: There is partial tearing of muscle fibres. Full recovery can take approximately 4 to 8 weeks with good rehabilitation.
  • Grade 3: This is the most severe calf strain with a complete tearing or rupture of muscle fibres in the lower leg. Full recovery can take 3-4 months and, in some instances, surgery may be needed.
Can a torn calf muscle heal itself?

Katie Baines - Senior Physiotherapist

Yes, a torn calf muscle can heal on its own. Healing time will depend on the severity of the injury and the correct rehabilitation process. However, seeing a physiotherapist can help in managing this injury successfully and avoiding prolonged pain and dysfunction.

What are the complications of a torn calf muscle?

Katie Baines - Senior Physiotherapist

Complications can include:

  • Swelling
  • Delayed healing
  • Prolonged tightness and pressure sensation in the muscle
  • Sensitivity and soreness over the area of the injury
  • Scar tissue build up
  • Muscle weakness
  • Reduced sports performance
How is a torn calf muscle treated?

Katie Baines - Senior Physiotherapist

The first thing to do is to get a proper diagnosis and a consultation with a physiotherapist. If conservative measures are recommended, your physiotherapist will guide you through the recovery phases outlined below.

Phase 1: Early injury protection: pain reduction & anti-inflammatory phase

The P.R.I.C.E. principle - Protect, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation

Phase 2: Regain full range of motion

Massage, stretches, ankle mobility

Phase 3: Restore muscle strength

Progressive exercises for the calf and other muscles (core and lower limb)

Phase 4: Restore speed, power, proprioception and agility

Customised graded exercise programme to address requirements of lifestyle/sports

Phase 5: Return to sport

Sports specific rehabilitation drills and phased/guided return to full activity

If deemed appropriate a physiotherapist can recommend or refer you for further investigations and a consultant review if necessary. In more severe cases you may be advised to wear a walkabout boot and use crutches to rest the area and allow the muscle to heal. In some instances surgery is needed to repair the muscle tear.

For further advice on causes, symptoms and treatment, you can find out more advice about torn calf muscle injuries here.

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