Julia Barber explains how to look after the neglected calf muscle TriathlonPlus Winter 2016
Calf muscle tears – the neglected muscle!
The calf muscle is made up of the Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Plantaris muscles. Its action is to plantarflex the foot, allowing you to push off when walking or running. Calf muscle tears,or a pulled calf as it is more commonly known, can be a regular occurrence in sport, especially in running. The muscle will become torn or ‘pulled’ when it is forcibly stretched beyond its normal length, or possibly when fatigued due to overtraining. When this occurs the muscle tissue may tear and dependent upon the amount of fibres torn, the injury can be sub-classified into the following categories. Grade 1: Just a few muscle fibres are torn Grade 2: A larger number of muscles fibres are torn Grade 3: Complete rupture of the muscle
A grade one injury may show itself during or post activity, and may feel like a tightness/cramp in the back of the calf with stretching or muscle contraction. A grade two tear is more likely to be felt during the activity and will give immediate pain. Often a runner will feel the muscle tear happen. A grade three injury will also give a severe pain immediately and it may be difficult to weight bear. Where the muscle has torn there may be a visible lump above a depression where the torn tissue is. It is likely a grade two and three tear will be accompanied by bruising. The amount of bruising will vary depending on the number of muscle fibres torn.
Due to the repetitive nature of running it is important to modify your training when you suspect you have a calf tear, to reduce the likelihood of the tear progressing to the next level. For all grades of muscle tear, you would need to reduce your training volume and take out speed work. Muscles can become painful when overused, particularly with spikes in training, rather than a gradual increase in distance, time or speed. Healing times for a grade one tear should be approximately one to two weeks, grade two tears four to six weeks and a grade three tear would need to be assessed by an orthopaedic surgeon for consideration of surgery. A physiotherapist will be able to guide you as to what exercises and modified training you are able to perform during your recovery from injury. As a general guide, it is recommended you reduce your training volume, cut out speed work and focus on calf strengthening exercises, particularly endurance strength training.