How to Deal with Calf Muscle Injuries
Written by Jordan Stone
As an athlete you deal with aches and pains throughout a season. Some of those are part of the game while others can easily be prevented. The purpose of this article is to help you prevent calf injuries. If your calf is already, hurt do not hesitate to come and see a physical therapist who can further assist you. These are just basic identification and prevention tips!
What most people typically refer to as the calf is actually made up of three separate muscles (the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris) that all come together to form the achilles tendon. The most common of these to be strained is the gastrocnemius. The mechanism of injury is often a rapid extension of the knee accompanied with the foot being in dorsiflexion (think trying to touch your toe to your shin). If the strain is in the gastrocnemius, it is likely that the individual will be tender in the belly of the calf. The gastrocnemius muscle originates above the knee and this means in order to be stretched or strengthened the knee must be extended. To stretch it try lunging into a wall and with your back leg keep it straight while pressing your heel into the ground. To strengthen the muscle try getting just the balls of your feet on a stair with your heels hanging off and raise your body as high as you can and lower yourself all the way down. The Plantaris is rarely injured and even if it is hurt, it is typically treated similarly to the gastrocnemius, so there is not much need to differentiate it from the gastrocnemius.
Lastly, injuries of the soleus are often misdiagnosed as gastrocnemius and therefore under reported. Most often the symptoms of a soleus strain are calf stiffness, tightness, and pain that worsens over time. If the strain is in the soleus it is likely that the individual will be tender towards the outside of the calf. The soleus muscle originates below the knee and this means in order to be stretched or strengthened the knee must be flexed. To stretch it try getting into the same lunge position as the stretch for the gastrocnemius. Now, move your back foot closer to the wall and bend your knee while still pressing your heel into the ground. To strengthen the muscle move to a seated position with one flexed (knee towards chest). With the bent leg place a band around the ball of your foot and use both hand to hold/ stretch the band toward your body. Push your foot down toward the ground and slowly let it rise back up and repeat.
If you are already hurt the above will not be enough nor is it intended to replace proper rehabilitation. Please seek out help from a medical professional if you are concerned about already being injured, the above is meant to help spot and prevent an injury before it occurs.