Calf Injuries: Your Questions Answered

We’ve teamed up with esteemed Chartered Physiotherapist, Neil Aitken to give you high-quality information on the most common rugby injuries and how to best recover from them. If there’s a particular injury you’d like us to cover with Neil’s help, get in touch with us on social media (Facebook | Twitter).

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The calf muscle name explained

Your calf is made up of three muscles: the gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris. The soleus is a deeper muscle and it does not cross the knee joint. The gastrocneumius is the larger of the three muscles, it crosses the knee joint and is the muscle most people associate as their calf. The plantaris is a small muscle that sits between the other two.

What does my calf muscle do?

The calf will move your ankle joint (plantarflexion) and will flex the knee joint. Your calf works in two different capacities. It will contract forcefully to help you propel yourself forwards or upwards when running or jumping. It also works to decelerate your lower leg when you land from a jump, try to stop or change direction when running. It may be injured with a very forceful contraction or when trying to suddenly decelerate your movement.

Have I injured my calf muscle?

If you have injured your calf muscle you will have pain localised at the area of the calf where you have strained some of the fibres. If it is a more severe strain there may be some swelling. You will find it sore to walk, especially when trying to push up onto your toes. Bruising may appear a few days after injury and may track down your leg to your ankle or foot as a result of gravity.

Can I have calf muscle pain without injury?

If you have pain, heat, swelling or redness in your calf without having injured it then you may have a DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosus). This is particularly possible if you have been on a plane recently. If this is the case you should seek urgent medical attention by going to A&E.

What are the degrees of calf strain?


Degrees Of Calf Strain


Grade 1 Calf Strain

This is a mild strain of some muscle fibres. You may feel a sensation of tightness and a low level of pain when the calf muscles are stretched or contracted.

Grade 2 Calf Strain

More muscle fibres are involved in a grade 2 calf strain, meaning that the pain your feel is more intense. There may also be signs of swelling with bruising tracking out of the muscle after a few days. This will then move down the leg due to gravity.

Grade 3 Calf Strain

A grade three calf strain is a more severe and rare injury. As the injured section of the muscle will have ruptured you would find it very difficult to walk. This should be assessed by a physiotherapist or GP, as although conservative management may be possible there may also be the need for surgery.

Calf injuries treatment

As always if you are concerned about the severity of your injury you should be assessed by a qualified person such as a physiotherapist or doctor. The following is a guide only. Each case is different and the management will therefore differ depending on the individual and the severity of their injury.


Calf Strain First Aid


Calf Strain First Aid

As with most injuries the first 5-7 days is the time to limit damage and let the area settle. During this time the PRICE regime should be followed – protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. Ice can be applied for 20 minutes every 2 hours and a compression bandage could be worn. Protection and rest may involve the use of crutches to limit the use of the calf.

Calf Strain Rehab

Determining when to start your rehab will depend on the grade of the muscle strain. You could start rehab at 5 days if pain has settled or it may be a few weeks in more severe cases.

Calf muscle exercises

Strengthening is the most important factor. The muscle should also return to its normal length through stretching, rehab and general use. Strength training should incorporate gentle recruitment in the early stages through to peak power output both eccentrically and concentrically at end-stage rehab. Endurance and fatigue should also be considered in your rehab. Progression through the various stages of rehab should be guided by a physiotherapist.

When can I return to training?

It is important to test the calf before returning to training. You should be able to sprint, jump, change direction sharply and run for longer periods of time with no pain during or after (including the next morning) before you return to full training.

Calf injury recovery time

A minor grade 1 calf strain may recover in 2-3 weeks, whilst a grade 2 calf strain may take 5-8 weeks and a grade 3 calf injury may take 3-6 months.


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About the author

Neil Aitken is a Chartered Physiotherapist with a private clinic in Edinburgh. He has previous experience as a senior physiotherapist in the NHS and provided physio for one of the top amateur rugby teams in Scotland. He is highly evidence-based having completed a Post Grad in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy gaining membership to the MACP, one of the most highly respected qualifications within physiotherapy.

Twitter: @aitkenphysio

Broken Collarbone Physiotherapist Neil Aitken


Disclaimer: This article is intended to serve as a guide for general information only. Injuries should be assessed by a qualified specialist such as a physiotherapist or doctor. When you sustain an injury, there are always complicating factors that may need to be assessed and addressed by a professional.

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