Calf Muscle Tear (Gastrocnemius Tear)
Calf (Gastrocnemius) muscle tears
commonly occur in middle-aged recreational athletes while performing actions
that require forceful contraction of the calf muscle (ex: basketball, hill
running, tennis, etc.). Calf muscle tears have similar symptoms and occur by a
similar mechanism to Achilles tendon ruptures. The difference is the location
of the injury. Achilles tendon ruptures involve the actual Achilles tendon with
pain located just above the back of the heel. Calf muscle tears occur higher up
where the muscle belly attaches to the fascia (musculotendinous junction).
Treatment of Gastrocnemius muscle tears is usually non-surgical, and dependent upon the individual’s symptoms. In most instances, initial treatment includes activity modification (limiting muscle-loading activities), wearing a boot (Cam Walker), and using crutches. As the muscle tear heals, exercises are utilized to regain full range of motion and muscular strength. Significant improvement can be expected within the first two weeks, but full recovery can take up to 6-8 weeks. It may take many more months to regain muscle mass in the calf. Occasionally, excessive scarring will form in the location of the tear. This can cause chronic pain in the area, or render it more likely for future tearing as the fibrotic scar tissue absorbs forces differently than regular healthy muscle tissue.
Acute Phase (first 24-72 hours)
- R.I.C.E. (R = Rest, I = Ice, C = Compression, E = Elevation)
- Anti-inflammatory medicines.
- Gentle foot and ankle range of motion (ROM) exercises can be carried out as long as the motion is relatively pain-free
Once pain free, the patient should progress from gentle plantar flexion (downward motion) exercises against resistance (use of resistance bands), to gradual introduction of stationary cycling, leg presses, and heel raises. Massage techniques can help to decrease swelling and prevent formation of scar tissue.