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A torn calf muscle occurs when one or both of the major muscles in the lower leg are placed under a great deal of strain. Muscle fibers are very flexible, but they can be severed when a sudden, major force causes them to stretch beyond their normal range of motion. Calf muscle tears are common among athletes who play fast-paced, heavy-impact sports such as football and hockey. They may also occur during awkward falls or over-aggressive running and jumping. A torn calf muscle can usually heal in about two months with rest, home remedies, pain medications, and careful rehabilitation exercises.
Calf injuries most commonly affect the large muscle called the gastrocnemius that stretches from the knee to the Achilles tendon in the ankle. A smaller, deeper muscle called the soleus may also be involved in a major injury. A torn calf muscle can occur when the leg is stretched, twisted, or impacted with great force. A football player, for example, might suffer a calf injury during a hard-hitting tackle that brings him to the ground in an awkward position. Runners can also experience tears if they fail to stretch and warm up properly before fast sprints.
Doctors classify calf muscle injuries into three different degrees or stages of severity. Stage one muscle tears are minor and pain is not debilitating. When a very small tear occurs, a person may feel tightness and soreness in the leg for several days but still be able to engage in some activities. Stage two tears typically result in sharp pains, tenderness, and moderate swelling. A stage three tear can result in intense pain and swelling that prevent an individual from bearing any weight at all on the injured leg.
A stage one torn calf muscle usually starts feeling better in a couple of weeks. A person can speed up the healing process by resting the leg, applying ice packs several times a day, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. It is important to engage in light stretching exercises once symptoms improve to gradually rebuild strength. Most doctors suggest that intense activities should be avoided for at least a month following a calf injury to avoid damaging the muscle further.
A torn calf muscle that is accompanied by major pain, swelling, and mobility problems should be assessed by a doctor. A physician can perform a physical exam and possibly take x-rays to determine the extent of damage. He or she might suggest wearing a supportive brace or wrap for several weeks during the healing phase to prevent re-injury. Prescription anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers can help with symptoms. If possible, patients are encouraged to attend physical therapy sessions with licensed trainers a few months after their injuries to safely regain strength and flexibility.