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Sore Calves

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Sore calf muscle is not an unusual occurrence that almost anyone can get to experience. It is the result of tears in the calf muscle that often result when the muscle is overexerted or overloaded from a vigorous activity such as lifting heavy weights, running and jogging or even after a long day of walking.

Sore calves are always expected for beginners in running and jogging as the calf muscle has not adapted to the new routine and neuromuscular coordination. Not only is sore calf can be obtained from an overexertion but can also be experienced when there is a big blow directed toward the legs resulting to trauma in the calf muscle.

The calf muscle is located at the back of the shinbone and runs from behind the knee down to the Achilles tendon. Calf muscle acts as a pulley that pulls the heel upward to allow movement of the legs. It is a muscle at the back of the lower leg and is composed of two muscles known as the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle. The gastrocnemius is the prominent muscle visible under the skin and is connected to the knee joint and tucked to the heel through the Achilles tendon. It is made up of two heads that form together and appears somewhat like a diamond in shape. The soleus on the other hand is smaller and is a flat muscle that is located beneath the gastrocnemius connected below the knee joint and is tucked in the heel through the Achilles tendon. Both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles joined at the base of the calf muscle.

Symptoms of Sore Calves

Pain is the common symptom of sore calves although it is not the only symptom. Other symptoms that may occur depend on the cause of the sore calf muscle.

The common symptoms of sore calves may include the following:

  • Burning sensation in the calf muscle
  • Pain in the joints particularly in the leg joints
  • Involuntary muscle spasm
  • Swelling
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Onset of fever

The symptom of sore calves can be mild or severe depending on the cause. The tear in the calf muscle is graded from one to three to gauge the severity.

Grade I of symptom is defined as the least severe with minor tear in the calf muscle. The pain is basically minimal and the function is not affected. A twinge of pain may be felt at the back of the lower leg and tightness of the muscle may also be present which may last for a couple of days or several days.

Grade II of the symptom is more severe than grade 1 and with almost 90% of tear in the calf muscle. A sharp pain is usually felt at the back of the lower leg accompanied with the difficulty to walk as pain is also felt while walking. The pain is particularly felt when there is resistance or when there is resistance against the plantar flexion. Tightness and pain in the calf muscle is usually felt for a week or more. Loss of function is noted in grade II symptom.

Grade III symptom is the most severe and is characterized by almost complete to complete muscle rupture. Pain at the back of the lower leg is severe and immediate while loss of function is noted including the inability to contract the muscle. Deformity of the calf muscle can be seen which is rather pushed and clustered upward.

What are the Causes of Sore Calves?

Sore calves occur when there is the presence of tear in either one or both of the calf muscle more often in the gastrocnemius muscle. The tear in the calf muscle can occur due to several factors and manifests through pain or soreness of the muscle behind the shinbone.

The cause of sore calves can either be due to injury or due to medical condition.

Injury causing sore calves includes the following:

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  • Calf muscle strain is the most common cause of sore calf. This cause of sore calf muscle occurs when the muscle is overstretched resulting to a tear in the muscle. Individual with calf muscle strain usually experiences pain that is exacerbated with movement such as walking. Swelling and bruising may also be experienced depending on the exact cause of the muscle strain. Long distance walking or running without giving the legs a rest can lead to strain in the calf muscle which results to sore calves.
  • Involuntary muscle spasm or muscle cramps causes sore calf muscle. Muscle cramps occur when there is overuse of the muscle and too much stretching of the calf muscle. This can result to pain in the calf muscle.
  • Beginners in certain sports or activities are also prone to sore calves as the calf muscle has not yet adapted to the new routine or neuromuscular coordination.

Certain medical condition can also cause sore calves mostly as part of the disease process itself. Medical conditions that can cause sore calves include the following:

Baker’s cyst or popliteal cyst is a swelling in the knee joint that resulted from the buildup of the synovial fluid or the fluid that lubricates the knee joint. This condition can cause stiffness and pain in the calf muscle. The buildup of the synovial fluid is due to the presence of tear in the cartilage or secondary to arthritis.

Achilles tendinitis is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon. The fibers in the center portion of the tendon have degenerate with tiny tears resulting to swelling and soreness in the calf muscle. This condition is often the result of overuse of muscle or secondary to arthritis.

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition characterized by the formation of blood clot in the vein deep in the body. This condition usually affects the lower legs and thighs which in return can cause sore calf muscle as part of the disease process.

How to Treat Sore Calves?

The treatment for sore calves is composed of RICE which stands for rest, ice application, compression and elevation.

Rest is the primary treatment for sore calf muscle. The aim of rest is to reduce the stress on the muscle while the muscle is still recuperating from strains and injury. Rest will allow the muscle some time to relax and heal.

Ice application helps in reducing the swelling and bruising. This is ideally recommended to be applied for 15 to 20 minutes following onset of injury or pain. The course is to be repeated every few hours over 24 hours.

Compression bandage can be applied immediately after the injury to prevent swelling. This, however, should be applied for not more than 10 minutes to prevent blood restriction that could add more damage when it happens.

Elevation of leg is done while resting. The leg should be raised slightly above the heart. Elevation helps to reduce the swelling that causes the sore calf muscle.

Over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help relieve the pain and swelling that causes sore calves. In some cases, such as in grade III symptom, surgery is necessary to reattach the muscle fibers that have broken down.


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