Calf Strain/Sprain: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Calf strains happen when the muscle in lower leg is injured. The muscle can be overstretched or torn, causing sharp pain and weakness in the back of the lower leg. The pain can be so intense that you may not be able to bear weight on the effected leg. With traditional treatment, this injury can leave you sidelined anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the severity.


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 nine separate muscles, any of which can be injured individually or together. A calf strain results from overstretching or tearing any of the nine muscles of the calf.

If you strain your calf muscles, you may feel a sharp pain or weakness in the back of the lower leg or a throbbing pain at rest, with sharp stabs of pain occurring when you try to stand or walk. Spasms may occur, along with a sharp pain in the back of the lower leg when you try to stretch or move the ankle or knee. With a severe strain, you may hear a popping sound at the time of injury.

A muscle strain is graded according to the amount of muscle damage that has occurred. Grade 1 strains are defined by a mild or partial stretch or tearing of a few muscle fibers. The muscle will be tender and painful, but there is no loss of strength or mobility.

Grade 2 strain is a moderate stretch or tearing of a greater percentage of the muscle fibers. You’ll notice increased tenderness and pain, along with a noticeable loss of strength and possible bruising. Use of the leg will be impaired, and limping when walking is common.

The most serious type of strain is a Grade 3 strain, involving a severe tear of the muscle fibers (sometimes a complete muscle tear). Bruising is apparent. Use of the leg is extremely difficult, and putting weight on the leg is very painful.

Individuals who regularly participate in sports that require high-speed motions like running and jumping are at the greatest risk for calf strain injuries. Calf strains are especially common among runners, soccer and basketball players, gymnasts, and dancers. A previous strain or injury to the area can also increase your risk, along with muscle fatigue, tight calf muscles, and poor conditioning. Advancing age can increase the vulnerability of the calf to injury and strain with less forceful movements.


Traditional treatment almost always involves long periods of rest and inactivity to allow the muscles to heal, with a focus on pain management. Recovery time varies depending on the severity of the strain, ranging from several weeks to several months for more severe strains. Without proper recovery, there is a high risk of injury recurrence with calf strains and tears.

Initially, your physician will likely recommend RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). You may be prescribed crutches or a walking boot, along with anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy may also be required to regain full strength and mobility in the injured calf. Surgery is rarely necessary in the case of a calf strain, but it may be recommended if a calf muscle fully tears.


At Airrosti, we treat the strain directly at the source to get you back on your feet, fast. By incorporating at-home active rehab into your treatment plan, we equip you with the knowledge and skills to speed the recovery process and prevent future injuries.

Learn more about how Airrosti’s treatment plan can help eliminate pain in an average of three visits.


Reviewed by Casey Crisp, Doctor of Chiropractic

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