Calf muscle tears, also called calf strains, are a painful sports injury that can affect runners. Here are four things runners need to know about calf muscle tears.
How does running cause calf muscle tears?
Calf muscle tears can occur if you're running too many hills or increasing your mileage too quickly. If you're already running at a high level, you shouldn't increase your mileage by more than 5-10% every two weeks; taking an easy recovery week every four to six weeks is also important to let your body heal.
Skipping your warm up or cool down can also lead to this injury. It's tempting to skip these steps on busy days when you need to squeeze in your workouts, but taking shortcuts could get you injured.
What are the signs of calf muscle tears?
Your calf is made up of two muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, and the signs of calf muscle tears differ based on which muscle is affected. The gastrocnemius is the larger of the two muscles, so tears of this muscle cause more serious symptoms. If you tear your gastrocnemius, you'll feel immediate pain, your leg will swell, and you won't be able to walk.
If you tear your soleus, your calf will feel stiff and tight. The muscle will hurt, though this pain isn't immediate; instead, the pain worsens over a period of days to weeks. The disability associated with soleus tears is generally mild, so you'll still be able to walk, and may even be able to jog (though you shouldn't).
How are calf muscle tears treated?
At first, calf muscle tears are treated with the R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method. If you're able to put weight on the affected leg, you should, but if not, crutches will be required. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided as this can lead to increased bleeding, but other painkillers can be used.
Once your pain is gone, physical therapy can begin. During physical therapy, you'll perform exercises like stationary cycling and heel raises to strengthen your injured calf muscle. You'll need to keep stretching and strengthening the muscle for several months after the injury to prevent reinjury.
When can you return to running?
Recovery can take anywhere between seven days and 12 weeks, depending on the extent of your injury. It's important to avoid running until you're fully healed, as running while injured can make your injury worse. Your doctor will let you know when it's safe for you to start running again.
If your calf muscle is sore, you may have torn it while running and should go somewhere like DeSoto Memorial Hospital to look into physical therapy.