Calf strain treatment plan

Calf strain treatment plan

The Exakt Health App provides an exercise-based treatment plan for calf strains. Learn how it works and what’s included.

Research-based treatment plan

When you pull, strain, or tear your calf, you injure some muscle cells and fibers in the muscle. When this happens, your body replaces these hurt cells with new ones to heal your injury. Unfortunately, the new cells aren’t very strong at first, so you have to strengthen them gradually. 

The best way to treat a calf strain and prevent it from recurring is by following a progressive strength training program set at the right intensity for you.

How the Exakt Health app's treatment plan works

  • The app guides you safely from the first moment you strain your calf to full recovery.
  • The calf strain treatment plan contains evidence-based exercises with clear guidance on reps, sets, and frequency.
  • The app adapts the program according to your feedback and specific needs.
  • It implements a walk/run program for a safe return to running.
  • It includes a maintenance program to prevent recurring calf strains.
See your daily calf strain exercises in the activities dashboard.
Learn more about calf strains including how to diagnose, treat and prevent them in the injury overview screen.

The app teaches you about your calf strain injury

Understanding what strained your calf and caused it to tear, how it heals, and when to see a doctor helps you plan your recovery better and prevents re-injury.

Anatomy of the calf muscles and Achilles tendon.Two main muscles make up the majority of your calf.

The gastrocnemius muscle is the most superficial. It makes up the bulkier part at the top of your calf and originates from behind your knee.

The soleus muscle lies deep to the gastrocnemius muscle. Its fibers run down into your lower leg, almost as far down as your heel.

These muscles join to form a thick fascia layer called the Achilles tendon, which inserts into your heel bone.

A calf strain injury involves either of these muscles and sometimes both.

The severity of your symptoms in the first few days after straining your calf will depend on how badly you’ve injured your muscles. Things you may experience include:

  • You may have moderate to severe pain in the area of the tear.
  • With milder strains, you may be able to walk with a near-normal gait pattern. However, if yours is more severe, you may struggle to walk.
  • It’s likely to be painful to stretch your calf, and in severe cases, placing your heel flat on the floor may be challenging.
  • Running may hurt, but not all people report pain with running; some describe it as a crampy feeling or persistent stiffness.
  • You may feel pain when contracting your calf muscle against resistance.
  • You may see some swelling and bruising, but not always. And if it does appear, it may take a few days. Bruising also often shows up lower than the injured area, for example, in the foot and ankle, because gravity pulls the tissue fluids downward.
Most calf strains can be treated at home using a conservative exercise-based treatment plan as outlined in the app.
 
You should consider seeing a medical practitioner if you have any concerns about your injury, particularly if:
 
  • You heard or felt a pop when you injured your leg – or it felt like someone kicked you in the back of the heel – especially if it was in the area of your Achilles tendon. These may indicate a severe Achilles tendon tear, and you should have it investigated immediately. Delaying proper treatment or following the wrong advice can result in your tendon not healing correctly.
  • You think your injury is severe, with lots of swelling and bruising.
  • Your leg (thigh, calf, or foot) is very swollen, red, hot to touch, or throbs with pain. These signs can indicate a blood clot, and you should have it investigated immediately.
  • Night pain keeps you awake or interrupts your sleep.
  • You have pins and needles or tingling in your leg, which may indicate possible nerve injury, and our treatment plan may not be suitable for you.
  • Your symptoms are getting worse.
  • Your injury isn’t healing within the expected healing timeframes (mentioned in later sections).
People often blame “tight” calf muscles for causing a strain, but weak calf muscles or over-training are the primary causes for calf strains. Some of the most common causes include:
 
  • Overtraining: Not allowing your body to fully recover after a high-intensity session causes an accumulation of micro-damage in your muscle, and you can strain it more easily.
  • Fatigue: You are much more likely to tear a calf muscle towards the end of a hard training or running session when your muscles are tired.
  • Sudden increases in running intensities and volume don’t allow your muscles enough time to adapt and grow stronger, making them vulnerable to injury.
  • Weak calf muscles are prone to strain under forceful contractions during sprinting, hill running, jumping, or kicking.
  • A previous calf strain makes you more at risk of re-injury, especially if you haven’t fully recovered from the initial injury.
  • Poor strength and control in your lower back and core muscles can also lead to injury. A weakness in these areas may cause overloading of the calves.
  • Insufficient warm-ups, especially before intense training sessions: “Cold” muscles have a higher risk of straining.
  • Older age also increases your calf strain risk. Therefore, regular strength training sessions are essential to mitigate muscle loss and strength reductions associated with aging.

Treatment

When you strain or tear your calf, cells, and fibers in the muscle break apart. While some can heal, others need to be cleared away and replaced with new cells. For your muscle to recover, it needs to go through a natural three-stage healing process:
  • First, your body gets rid of the injured cells through an inflammatory process (Stage 1).
  • Next, your body creates new muscle cells to replace the damaged ones (Stage 2).
  • Finally, your body strengthens the new muscle cells, but only in response to the correct exercises which stimulate this process (Stage 3).
The app’s treatment plan aligns with this natural healing process. For example, the graduated strength exercises signal the body to build and strengthen new muscle cells.
 
Because we all heal at different rates, it is critical to progress through the exercise levels and stages at your own pace.
 

Recovery time

To offer you some guidance on how quickly you might recover from your calf strain, consider the following recovery times:
  • A very mild calf strain usually heals within 15 to 21 days.
  • More severe strains can take between 20 and 60 days to recover fully.
  • If you have a very severe strain involving a large part of the muscle or the tendons, it can take 90 days or longer to recover fully.
  • If you’ve neglected your calf strain for a while, tried to train on it, and reinjured it a few times, it may take several months to heal.

Prevention

  • Do regular strength training for your calves.
  • Keep up good core strength and control – as well as in the rest of your muscles.
  • Allow sufficient recovery time after hard training sessions. If your calves are constantly tight and uncomfortable, it may be a sign that they are not getting enough time to recover.
  • Avoid sudden increases in running volumes or intensity. Your body needs time to adapt and grow stronger.
  • Incorporate a sufficient warm-up before you train, especially before intense training sessions.

The calf strain treatment plan consists of 7 stages

The workout intensities have to increase as your injury heals to regain full strength. The app starts you off with easy, low-load exercises and ensures that you progress at the correct time by setting clear targets for you at each stage.

This stage aims to allow your calf injury to settle and to limit the amount of swelling and internal bleeding. Follow the PRICE regime and avoid positions that stretch your calves, which can worsen your injury.

Activities to avoid

  • Avoid calf stretches as this will make your injury worse
  • Fast walking
  • Running
  • Explosive movements like hopping or jumping

When to progress

You can proceed to the next stage and start some gentle exercise when at least 48-72 hours have passed since you strained your calf.

It’s now time to start gentle strength training for your calves. It’s best to carefully ease into the exercises as your strained calf is not yet strong and still needs protection.

During this stage, the app will provide you with:

  • Gentle workouts to improve the strength and flexibility in your calf
  • Exercises for your core and other leg muscles
  • Advice on cross-training

Activities to avoid

  • Intense calf stretches as this will make your injury worse
  • Running
  • Explosive movements like hopping or jumping

When to progress

You can proceed to the next stage when you can walk for short distances at a slow pace and perform the prescribed calf strength workouts without pain.

Your aim is now to restore your flexibility and build the strength needed for explosive movements (plyometrics). You’ll also improve the strength and control in your core and legs.

The app’s workouts will increase the intensity and incorporate heavy weight training to help with this.

Activities to avoid

Avoid all running, hopping, and jumping activities.

When to progress

Proceed to the next stage when you can:

  • Walk at a slow pace for 30 minutes,
  • complete the prescribed calf strength workouts,
  • and perform the hop tests that the app sets you without pain.

You’re now preparing your calf muscles for the explosive contractions required for running. So, you will continue with your general strength training and start plyometric exercises (hops and jumps).

Activities to avoid

Avoid running and activities that require quick or sudden movements. 

When to progress

You can proceed to the next stage when you can:

  • Walk at a brisk pace for 30 minutes,
  • and do the assigned calf strength and hopping workouts without pain.

You’re now ready to start a return to running program. At this stage, the app prescribes a walk/run program to help you ease back into running safely. It also shifts the focus of your strength training sessions to maintenance. So, their frequency will reduce as your running volume increases, allowing adequate recovery time.

Activities to avoid

You should not yet do any high-intensity sessions, for example, tempo runs, intervals, or hill sessions.

When to progress

You can progress to the next stage when you can jog 20 minutes at a comfortable pace without aggravating your symptoms.

Here, the focus is on regaining your previous running endurance in your calf and leg muscles. It’s best to do all your runs at an easy pace and not increase the volume by more than 10% per week.

The strength workouts will maintain the strength you’ve built in the previous stages.

Activities to avoid

Avoid high-intensity running, for example, tempos, sprints, or hill sessions.

When to progress

You can progress to the next stage when you’re able to run your normal weekly running volume at your regular easy running pace, pain-free.

You can now start to train with increasing speed and intensity. It’s usually best to start with just one high-intensity session per week.

Continuing your weekly strength routine will support your body through your running activities and prevent re-injury. Again, the app provides a program to help you with this.

The calf strain workouts consist of exercises that increase in intensity as your injury recovers
The Exact Health App contains treatment plans for common running injuries.

Recover faster. Now.

Download the App now and start the recovery with your tailored treatment plan. Adjusted to your specific needs.

Learn more about Calf Strains

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