Calf Muscle Strain Treatments - Pursuit Physical Therapy
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Best Orlando Treatment for a

CALF MUSCLE STRAIN

Are you not able to continue your cherished hobbies or everyday activities because of sharp pain in your foot or ankle when you move? With our expert doctors’ help, you can get to the root of your symptoms and get back to doing what you love quicker and easier.

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Best Orlando Treatment for a

CALF MUSCLE STRAIN

Are you not able to continue your cherished hobbies or everyday activities because of sharp pain in your foot or ankle when you move? With our expert doctors’ help, you can get to the root of your symptoms and get back to doing what you love quicker and easier.

Read More Ask A Question

Here Is Everything You Need To Know About A Calf Muscle Strain, What Causes It, and The Best Way to Treat It

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What is a calf muscle strain?

A calf strain is an injury to the muscles in the calf area (the back of the lower leg below the knee). The calf muscle is actually composed of up to 9 separate muscles, any of which can be injured individually or together. Calf strains can occur during hi-speed motions like running and jumping, or from any type of forceful or uncoordinated movement. Calf strains are a well-known problem for runners, soccer and basketball players, gymnasts, and dancers. Although global statistics are sparse, one 8-year study of professional soccer players revealed a 13% calf-strain injury rate. Advancing age can increase the vulnerability of the calf to injury and strain with less forceful movements. Physical therapists treat individuals with calf strains by reducing pain, restoring muscle strength and flexibility, and increasing their recovery speed.

What are common causes of a calf muscle strain?

The “calf muscle” consists of 9 different muscles. The gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris muscles attach onto the heel bone, and work together to produce the downward motion of the foot. The other 6 muscles cause knee, toe, and foot movements in different directions; these muscles are the popliteus, flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus, tibialis posterior, and the fibularis (or peroneal) longus and brevis. They extend from the lower leg bones around the sides of the ankle and attach to various parts of the foot and toes. Injuries to these 6 muscles are sometimes wrongly attributed to the first 3 muscles mentioned here, as the pain is felt in similar areas of the calf.A calf strain is caused by overstretching or tearing any of the 9 muscles of the calf. Calf strains can occur suddenly or slowly over time, and activities, such as walking, climbing stairs, or running can be painful, difficult, or impossible.A muscle strain is graded according to the amount of muscle damage that has occurred:

  • Grade 1. A mild or partial stretch or tearing of a few muscle fibers. The muscle is tender and painful, but maintains its normal strength. Use of the leg is not impaired, and walking is normal.
  • Grade 2. A moderate stretch or tearing of a greater percentage of the muscle fibers. A snapping or pulling sensation may occur at the time of the injury and after the injury. There is more tenderness and pain, noticeable loss of strength, and sometimes bruising. Use of the leg is visibly impaired, and limping when walking is common.
  • Grade 3. A severe tear of the muscle fibers, sometimes a complete muscle tear. A “popping” sound may be heard or felt when the injury occurs. Bruising is apparent, and sometimes a “dent” in the muscle where it is torn is visible beneath the skin. Use of the leg is extremely difficult, and putting weight on the leg is very painful.

When muscles are strained or torn, muscle fibers and other cells are disrupted and bleeding occurs, which causes bruising. Within a few hours of the injury, swelling can occur, causing the injured area to expand and feel tight and stiff.

After a severe calf strain, bruising may also be seen around the ankle or foot, as gravity pulls the escaped blood toward the lower part of the leg.

Where does it hurt?

If you strain your calf muscles, you may feel:

  • Sharp pain or weakness in the back of the lower leg. The pain can quickly resolve, or can persist.
  • A throbbing pain at rest with sharp stabs of pain occurring when you try to stand or walk.
  • A feeling of tightness or weakness in the calf area.
  • Spasms (a gripping or severe tightening feeling in the calf muscle).
  • Sharp pain in the back of the lower leg, when trying to stretch or move the ankle or knee.
  • A “pop” or hear a “pop” sound at the time of injury (with a Grade 3 calf strain).

What are common symptoms of a calf muscle strain?

With a calf strain, you may experience:

  • A snap or pull felt or heard at the time of injury (with a Grade 1 and 2 calf strain). A “pop” may be felt or heard at the time of injury of a Grade 3 calf strain.
  • Pain and weakness in the calf area.
  • Swelling in the area.
  • Tightness in the area.
  • Bruising.
  • Weakness in the calf when trying to walk, climb stairs, or stand.
  • Limping when walking.
  • Difficulty performing daily activities that require standing and walking.
  • An inability to run or jump on the affected leg.

Learn how to get rid of your foot & ankle pain

Sign up for our free webinar when we break down 3 actual patient cases and show you, exactly, how we got them pain free.

We’ll show you:

  • The most common cases of foot & ankle pain
  • How some foot & ankle pain can be commonly misdiagnosed
  • How to tell what type of foot & ankle pain you have
  • Self treatment that you can try at home

Can a calf muscle strain be treated?

Yes, calf strains can be treated and with great results. Even better, many times it can be treated conservatively without needing injections, pain medications, or surgeries if you can address it early enough. The key to treatment is to solve the root cause of your pain so you can get the best results and a long-term outcome.  

Some root causes of calf strains can be:

  • Decreased hip and knee range of motion
  • Poor running form
  • Lack of ankle range of motion
  • Weak hip and glute muscles
  • Overload in training
  • Poor lifting and running biomechanics
  • Neural tension
  • Leg length discrepancy
  • Previous leg or hip injury
  • Calf muscle weakness
  • Poor footwear or running shoes
  • Poor biomechanics with sports
  • Trigger points in calf muscles
  • Lack of foot range of motion

If you have failed multiple treatment approaches already, your clinician missed the real root cause of your pain and was just chasing the symptoms. The pain or symptom is the effect, not the cause. What do I mean by this? Say your fire alarm goes off in your house. Its purpose is to protect you and make you aware that something is wrong, i.e., that there is a fire in your house. The “alarm” is like your pain (your body’s way of telling you something is wrong) and the “fire” is the root cause. When the fire alarm goes off, you don’t run upstairs and just turn it off, right? You run through the house with the fire extinguisher, trying to find the room where the fire is at. You try to find out what caused the alarm to go off so you can put it out. Once the fire is out, then the fire alarm can go off. Solve the “root” cause of your pain, and then the pain (“the effect”) eventually goes away.

Additionally, there is a common root cause which many clinicians misdiagnose. They treat the calf pain with a cookie cutter approach, hoping it will work and treat it as a simple muscle problem. They tend to rely on stretching, ultrasound, massage and focus treatment directly on the calf muscle. However, often the root cause is missed and the symptoms return. If you have failed multiple treatments and still have calf pain, then maybe it’s not just a calf problem? There is probably something else adjacent to the calf, like the ankle, that is overloading or stressing the knee to cause your pain. Other neighboring joints can influence your primary complaint area causing your pain. So many healthcare clinicians treat pain like this and thus show poor treatment outcomes which results in the pain coming back. Why? They missed the root cause of your calf pain. This is also the case when patients turn to injections, nerve blocks and other surgeries which are still not effective because the actual problem still is not solved, their treatment was just chasing the pain.

The first step in treatment is to identify the root cause of your pain. A specific and individualized treatment approach for your type of pain can lead to a successful outcome for you and resolve your symptoms for the long term. This is why you can’t rely on a standard cookie cutter approach; you need a customized and individualized treatment approach specifically for your type of calf pain.

“I had been experiencing knee pain for months, which gradually got worse and worse. I’m normally very active in sports such as Crossfit, OCR training, and Brazilian jujitsu so this was really frustrating. After the first visit, I immediately started feeling relief. Two weeks later, I’m walking around without pain. I can’t wait to get back to squats and pistols!

What happens if it goes untreated?

Minor case – If it is a minor case of calf muscle pain, research shows that many acute cases of pain may spontaneously go away in 4-8 weeks. The key to prevent from becoming a more severe chronic case is to solve the root cause of the calf pain and determine what actually is causing it. Many times, it’s not really a calf pain and the problem is somewhere else. But who wants to wait 8 weeks to get pain free? Let’s try to solve the root cause of your pain in 2-3 weeks and address all of the risk factors present (so it never returns!) and get you back to your favorite activities faster! We still recommend that you get it checked out by one of our board-certified physical therapists to ensure that it is just a minor case, to solve all risk factors, and to get the optimal outcome in the fewest visits needed. Most minor cases resolve on their own in time or get better with some stretching and strengthening. But, the sooner you take action, the sooner you are pain-free. (And research supports this!)

Severe case – If it’s more of a severe and chronic case of calf muscle pain, your pain will probably start to worsen and increase because the root cause and underlying risk factors of the pain are not being treated. Many people turn to pain medication and injections at this time but this only blocks the pain for short term. You may not feel the pain when taking pain medications, but the underlying problem is still there. Many people say after the pain medication and injection wears off, then usually the pain returns and sometimes it returns even worse. This is when you cannot run, jump, or play sports. Once the root cause is addressed, then we can start decreasing your pain, regardless of how chronic and severe the pain is. This is the crucial first step. It just may take more time to recover from a chronic case. Usually with chronic and severe cases, the longer you have your pain and injury, the longer it takes to resolve.

What outcome can you expect from treatment?

As we’ve discussed, the first step is to solve the root cause of your calf muscle strain pain. This is the most essential step to plan a treatment specialized for you and your unique type of pain. Your root cause will guide your treatment and dictate what is the best way to treat your pain. This, along with identifying risk factors that may be predisposing you to have your pain and injury, will allow you to start getting pain free again. The next step is to start decreasing pain, modifying activities, and start addressing all of the impairments causing your pain which we discovered during your evaluation. With each session, pain should start to decrease and you should start to regain range of motion with less pain and symptoms. Any radicular and referred pain should resolve fast as well. At this point, we begin light and basic strengthening only if it does not increase pain. Treatment will consist of a lot of manual therapy and light exercises.

The next step is to achieve full range of motion, (which should correlate to being pain-free) and now we can start progressive strengthening. Strengthening the muscles is crucial and research shows that this gives you the best long-term outcome! As you start to get stronger and maintain your mobility, your pain will continue to decrease if it is not already gone. Your increased strength will allow you to perform more activities and prevent flare-ups. This usually does take up to 4 weeks. As you clear our goals, then we can start easing you back into sport, golf, running, and whatever your favorite activities are. This is when we start winding down treatments and getting you back into functional strengthening, sport specific training, return to run programs, golfing, and whatever your goals are. In the end, we reassess everything, making sure we achieved all of our goals, your goals, that all risk factors are gone, and finalize your long-term home exercise program. There are many factors which can influence your outcome, but 85-90% of our patients respond well to our treatment approach and achieve a successful outcome when completing their plan of care.

Learn how to get rid of your foot & ankle pain

Sign up for our free webinar when we break down 3 actual patient cases and show you, exactly, how we got them pain free.

How is it diagnosed?

If you see your physical therapist first, your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. Your physical therapist will ask you:

  • What were you doing when you first felt pain?
  • Where did you feel the pain?
  • Did you hear or feel a “pop” when it occurred?
  • Did you receive a direct hit to your calf area?
  • Did you see severe swelling in the first 2 to 3 hours following the injury?
  • Do you feel pain when moving your ankle or knee, standing, or walking?

Your physical therapist will perform special tests to help determine whether you have a calf strain, such as:

  • Watch how you walk, and see if you can bear weight on the injured leg.
  • Test the different calf muscles for weakness.
  • Look for swelling or bruising.
  • Gently feel parts of the muscle to determine the specific location of the injury (palpation).
  • Your physical therapist may use additional tests to assess possible damage to specific muscles of the lower leg.

In certain cases, your physical therapist may collaborate with an orthopedist or other health care provider. The orthopedist may order further tests, such as an x-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other potential damage. These tests, however, are not commonly required for a calf strain.

Do you need an X-ray and MRI imaging for calf muscle strain pain?

For most common orthopedic cases, imaging is not needed and the diagnosis can be made with a simple physical therapy evaluation. No need to waste thousands of dollars on unwarranted diagnostic imaging. We also have clinical tests which we can perform to help rule in and rule out pathologies that correlate to MRI findings (which is WAY cheaper than an MRI!). An expensive MRI may just tell us what we already know. Also, often times the positive findings found on x-rays, MRIs, and EMGs may not actually be the root cause of your pain. What does that mean? Many positive findings on an MRI are also found in asymptomatic (pain-free) individuals, so diagnostic imaging may not be able to tell us what is actually causing your pain. For example: many people have a herniated disc in their low back but do not have any low back pain. So if herniated discs can cause no pain, just because someone with low back pain has a herniated disc does not mean that is what’s causing their pain. The key is to find out if your clinical evaluation findings during your evaluation at Pursuit match the MRI findings. If so, then we can decide what is the best way to treat it.

How can a Physical Therapist treat it?

Your physical therapist will design a specific treatment program to speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments that you can do at home to help you return to your normal lifestyle and activities.

Your physical therapist may advise you to:

  • Rest the area by avoiding walking or any activity that causes pain. Crutches or a brace may be recommended to reduce further strain on the muscles when walking.
  • Apply ice packs to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.
  • Compress the area with an elastic bandage wrap.
  • Insert heel lift pads into both of your shoes.
  • Consult with another health care provider for further services, such as medication or diagnostic tests.

Your physical therapist will provide treatments to:

Reduce Pain. Your physical therapist can use different types of treatments and technologies to control and reduce your pain, including ice, heat, ultrasound, electricity, taping, exercises, heel lifts, and hands-on therapy, such as massage.

Improve Motion. Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in the knee and ankle. These might begin with “passive” motions that the physical therapist performs for you to gently move your knee and ankle, and progress to active exercises and stretches that you perform yourself to increase muscle flexibility.

Improve Strength. Certain exercises will benefit healing at each stage of recovery; your physical therapist will choose the appropriate exercises, and teach you how to safely and steadily restore your strength and agility. These may include using cuff weights, stretchy bands, weight-lifting equipment, and cardio exercise equipment, such as treadmills or stationary bicycles.

Speed Recovery Time. Your physical therapist is trained and experienced in choosing the right treatments and exercises to help you safely heal, return to your normal lifestyle, and reach your goals faster than you are likely to do on your own.

Return to Activities. Your physical therapist will collaborate with you to decide on your recovery goals, including your return to work or sport, and will design your treatment program to help you reach those goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. Your physical therapist will apply hands-on therapy, such as massage, and teach you exercises, work retraining activities, and sport-specific techniques and drills to help you achieve your goals.

Prevent Future Reinjury. Your physical therapist can recommend a home-exercise program to strengthen and stretch the muscles around your ankle and knee to help prevent future reinjury of your calf. These may include strength and flexibility exercises for the calf, toe, knee, and ankle muscles.

If Surgery Is Necessary
Surgery is rarely necessary in the case of calf strain, but if a calf muscle fully tears and requires surgical repair, your physical therapist will help you minimize pain, restore motion and strength, and return to normal activities in the safest and speediest manner possible after surgery.

“After at least three years of doctor-hopping […] looking for someone to alleviate my constant dizziness and neck pain, I finally found Dr. Miller. I have more energy and less pain, and have halved my dependence on painkillers. He shouldn’t be the last stop on your road to recovery, he should be the first.”

How long does it take for recovery?

Recovery time for a calf muscle strain depends on multiple factors:

  • The severity and chronicity of your pain
  • Whether your pain is an easy or complex case
  • If the root cause of your pain was solved or if it was missed (this is the key to getting a great recovery!)
  • How long you have been in pain for and when you need to be pain-free by
  • Other therapies and treatments you have tried
  • Which medical professional(s) you saw prior to seeing us
  • How active you are in trying to resolve your pain
  • Which treatment approach is chosen and if it is proven to work for your pain

There are many factors that influence your recovery time and every patient’s recovery time is different. If you do nothing and don’t pursue treatment, it could gradually get better on its own, you could continue to have the same pain persist, or it could continue to get worse. As stated earlier, most acute cases may or may not resolve in 4-8 weeks. If you get expert treatment that solves the root cause of your pain, some cases resolve in 1-3 weeks! Then you can get back to sports, exercise, and your favorite activities without flare-ups and recurrences. Some of our patients are pain-free in 1-3 visits and back to 100% in 2 weeks!

If it is a complex case with chronic pain, your recovery may take longer, but you can still get a good outcome. Some chronic cases can resolve as fast as 2 months but can take as long as 4-6 months. It varies with every patient because every case of calf strain pain is different. Every patient’s recovery varies depending on the factors listed above. After a thorough evaluation here at Pursuit Physical Therapy, you will know your exact timeline of recovery, your prognosis, and when you should reach your goals.

How much does it cost?

The average cost of care for a case of spine pain in the US is $1800-$6600. This high price is due to many factors: the over-inflated cost of healthcare, the over expensive cost of unwarranted imaging (x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs) that is not needed, over-utilization of care (which increases the number of visits needed to be treated, requiring multiple visits to different doctors and physical therapists for the same diagnosis), and getting billed for unnecessary and unproven treatments that you don’t even need. All of these factors increase cost and this is why healthcare is so expensive. We strive to end that unnecessary, expensive cycle. In fact, we are currently publishing our first-year data with the University of Central Florida that shows the cost-effectiveness of our treatment approach.

This year, the average cost of our care was shown to be $814-$1141. Some of our patients get even as low as $315 for the full treatment! So if you have a deductible of $3,000-$10,000 and you have to pay out of pocket for your treatment, we can save you lots of money.

Remember, every case of pain is different and not all calf pain is the same. It is hard to predict exactly how much your treatment is going to cost you. But after a thorough evaluation, we can tell you exactly what is causing your pain, how long it is going to take, what the best way to treat it will be, and exactly how much it is going to cost. We have no hidden fees, no co-pays, and no miscellaneous bills that you will be surprised by 3 months after you receive treatment. Your pain, your diagnosis, your goals, and what is best for you dictate your treatment and how much it will cost, and while it varies for every patient, treatment at Pursuit is still much more affordable than standard healthcare.

How long are sessions?

Our evaluations are always one-on-one with one of our board-certified specialists and 60-90 minutes long. We like to perform thorough evaluations so we can solve the root cause of your pain, identify all risk factors, and make sure that we do it right. After the evaluation, you will know your diagnosis, the root cause of why you have your pain and symptoms, your prognosis, an expected timeline of when you should see results, what the best way to treat your pain is, how much it will cost, and your expected recovery outcome. We want you to fully understand everything about your pain and injury. What is best for you and will get you the best outcome is what will dictate your care and treatment. There will be plenty of time for you to ask questions so we can make sure you fully understand why you have your pain and what the best way to treat it will be. After the evaluation is completed, all treatment sessions are 60 minutes going forward and still one-on-one with your physical therapist. You and your physical therapist will design a customized treatment plan that works for you and that will achieve your goals.

How can it be prevented?

Calf strains can be prevented by:

    • Increasing the intensity of any activity or sport gradually, not suddenly. Avoid pushing yourself too hard, too fast, too soon.
    • Always warming up before starting a sport or heavy physical activity.
    • Following a consistent strength and flexibility/stretching exercise pro

gram to maintain good physical conditioning, even in a sport’s off-season.

  • Wearing shoes that are in good condition and fit well.

What are the next steps?

Getting started is simple. The first step, and the key to getting you pain free again, is to solve the root cause or your case of pain. Remember, not all pain is the same. Your pain is different than someone else’s pain, even though it may be in the same area. If you’re ready to get pain free, give us a call at (407) 494-8835 or fill out the form below. The next step is to schedule your evaluation so we can solve the root cause for you. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have and we would love the opportunity to help you.

BECOMING PAINFREE  IS EASIER THAN YOU THINK

Step 1:

Call our expert team.

Step 2:

We’ll work with you to find and treat the root of your pain.

Step 3:

Get back to doing what you love.

Call us to schedule your appointment

(407) 494-8835
(407) 494-8835

Ask one of our Board Certified Specialists a question about your pain. Just fill out the form below.