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Torn Calf Muscle: Causes, Treatment & Recovery

Torn calf muscles are one of the most common sporting injuries in Australia.

A torn calf muscle (also called a calf strain) is a common injury that can occur when the muscles in the back of your lower leg are suddenly stretched or loaded beyond their capacity. This can happen during activities like running, jumping, or even simply walking up an incline.

A torn calf muscle can range from a mild injury that causes only minor discomfort to a complete tear that results in severe pain and swelling. In some cases, a torn calf muscle may also cause cramping, bruising, or weakness in the affected leg.

While a torn calf muscle can happen to anyone, there are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing this type of injury. 

In this article, we'll look at common causes, treatment, and recovery recommendations for torn calf muscles and strains.

Torn calf muscle vs. calf strain – what’s the difference?

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s answer the most important question at hand – what is the difference between a tear and strain? 

A torn calf muscle and a calf strain are both injuries that can cause pain in the back of the lower leg. However, they are different types of injuries.

A torn calf muscle is a complete tear of one of the muscles in the back of the lower leg. This type of injury is usually very painful and can take several weeks or even months to heal completely.

A calf strain is a partial tear of a muscle or tendon in the back of the lower leg. This type of injury is typically less painful than a torn muscle and can often be treated at home with ice and rest. However, more severe strains may require professional medical treatment. 

What are the most common causes of torn calf muscles?

The most common cause of a torn calf muscle is over-stretching or overuse. This often happens with explosive and dynamic activities like running, playing sports, or jumping. However, walking can still cause significant injury to an overworked and tired muscle. Other causes include sudden impact or trauma to the muscle, and weakness in the muscle from age or inactivity. 

Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) is most important in the acute stages following the injury. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary for a complete tear. With proper treatment however, most people recover from a torn calf muscle within a few weeks or months of rehabilitation. 

What are the most common sports for torn calf muscles?

There are a few different sports that commonly result in torn calf muscles in Australia. These include Australian Rules football, rugby union and rugby league. Other less common sports that can also lead to this injury include netball, basketball, and soccer.

Torn calf muscles often occur when the muscle is stretched beyond its limits or suddenly contracts forcefully. This can happen when sprinting, kicking, or changing direction quickly. It can also occur if you fall awkwardly or land on your feet after a jump.

If you suffer a torn calf muscle, you will usually feel an intense pain in the back of your lower leg. You may also feel like your leg has given way or that there is a “pop” sensation. There may be bruising and swelling, and it may be difficult to weight bear on the injured leg.

If you think you have torn your calf muscle, it is important to see a doctor or physiotherapist as soon as possible. They will be able to diagnose the injury and advise on the best course of treatment. This will involve rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), stretching and strengthening exercises, or a combination of these. 

In some cases, surgery may be required to repair the muscle. However, this is usually only necessary if the tear is large or if there are other issues involved such as nerve damage.

Most people who suffer a torn calf muscle will make a full recovery with the right treatment. However, it is important to take things slowly to avoid re-injuring the muscle.

How can you treat a torn calf muscle?

There are several ways that you can treat a torn calf muscle, depending on the severity of the injury. For minor tears, you can try resting and icing the area to reduce swelling. You can also take over-the-counter pain medications to help with any discomfort. For more severe injuries, you may need to see a doctor or physical therapist for treatment. They can provide you with specific exercises to help rehabilitate your calf muscle and prevent future injuries.

How long does recovery take from a calf muscle tear?

Most people who have a calf muscle tear will need about 6-8 weeks to recover. However, this can vary depending on the severity of your injury. If you have a more severe tear, it may take longer to heal. Once your calf muscle has healed, you may need to gradually increase your activity level and avoid sudden, high-impact activities to prevent another injury.

Tips to avoid calf tears and strains

Calf tears and strains are a common injury, especially among athletes. Here are some tips to help avoid these injuries: 

  1. Warm up properly before exercise. A good warm-up will increase blood flow to the muscles and help prevent sudden, intense activity from causing an injury. 
  1. Stretch your calf muscles regularly. This will help maintain flexibility and reduce the risk of a tear or strain.
  2. Avoid sudden changes in direction when possible during intensity exercise. Sudden movements put extra stress on the calf muscles and can lead to an injury.
  3. Wear proper footwear. Shoes that provide support and cushioning can help reduce the risk of a calf injury.
  4. Listen to your body. If you feel pain in your calf muscles, stop exercising and rest. Ignoring pain can lead to a more serious injury.

By following these tips you can help to effectively reduce the chance of calf tears and strains. However, if you do experience an injury, prompt treatment can help speed your recovery and get you back to your favourite activities as soon as possible.

Wrapping Up

If you've suffered a torn calf muscle, you're probably looking for answers on how to treat it and speed up your recovery. While there is no magic rule, following the advice outlined above can get you back on the track, field, or court faster than you thought possible. 

With proper care, most people recover from a torn calf muscle within four to six weeks. However, it may take longer for athletes or others who regularly put a lot of strain on their legs to fully heal. If your symptoms don't seem to be improving after a few weeks, it's important to work with a physiotherapist who can help you return to full activity.

NQ Physio Solutions are Townsville’s leading team of sports and general physiotherapists. If you believe you’re suffering from a torn calf, get in touch with the team at NQ Physio today to book in an appointment for one of our physios to assess your injury and get you back to the sport of your choice.

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