Also known as or related to:
Calf tear, calf strain, soleus tear, soleus strain, calf overuse, soleus overuse, back of leg pain, back of leg cramping.
Pain can present as an acute type of injury where a certain movement or activity causes some of the muscle fibres to tear suddenly. Many injuries are more of a cumulative injury where the work load of these particular muscles gradually accumulates to a point where the muscles can't physically do the job that is asked of them. These injuries can present as pain, cramping, fatigue or tenderness the next day.
The calf muscles can be split into two main portions - the top of the calf which is consists of the medial and lateral heads of the gastrocnemius and the second portion is the deeper and lower muscle called the soleus. These two parts function slightly differently so it is important to determine which muscles are actually injured.
The medial and lateral heads of the gastrocnemius start above the knee joint and extend down to the achilles tendon and heel bone. When the knee is straight, the gastrocnemius which is this top part of the calf muscles can contract and perform its role of pushing you forwards. When the knee is bent slightly, the tension is taken out of the gastrocnemius and it turns off as it has nothing to pull on.
The soleus starts below the knee joint and also joins into the achilles and heel bone. It pushes you along regardless of whether the knee is bent or straight. A bent knee when running will result in the soleus muscle performing the lions share of the workload and a higher risk of injury.
Acute muscle strains are treated with standard therapies such as reduced load, strengthening, stretching and physical therapies.
Cumulative injuries or recurrent acute injuries treatments with centre around reducing the work load of the injured structure. Improving biomechanical issues with heel lifts, footwear set-up, run technique, orthotic designs, gait retraining and motor patterning will all help to reduce the load long term and help prevent re-injury.