A torn calf muscle is an injury that causes a partial or complete tear in the muscles behind your shin bone. A calf muscle tear usually causes sudden, intense calf pain and may prevent you from walking or bearing weight on your leg. Calf muscle tears usually heal with conservative treatments, but sometimes require surgery.
Your calf muscles (the gastrocnemius and soleus) are in your lower leg, behind your shin bone. They extend from behind your knee down to your heel. These muscles can tear if you perform sudden movements that severely overstretch them. Calf muscle tears can be partial or complete (rupture).
Your calf muscles are at especially high risk for tears because of their location between two joints — the ankle and the knee. These muscles also have very tight muscle fibers, making them prone to overstretching injuries.
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Anyone can get a ruptured calf muscle, but it’s most common in:
Calf injuries can occur in all sports but most commonly in the ones that involve running. The lesions occur generally when the players and muscles are tired. Gastrocnemius (muscle near the middle of the calf) tears are more common than soleus (closer to the heel) tears.
A ruptured calf muscle can happen if you suddenly overstretch your calf. Quick pivots, jumps or abrupt stops during sports can cause this injury. It’s also possible to develop tears over time if you overwork your calf muscles. People who return to exercise too quickly after a previous calf injury can also develop tears.
Symptoms of a torn calf muscle can include:
In very rare cases, torn calf muscle complications can include:
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms. They may palpate (press) on your calf muscles to check for areas of tenderness or swelling.
Sometimes torn calf muscles look like other injuries in your lower leg, such as Achilles tendon ruptures or a burst Baker’s cyst. Calf pain that seems like muscle pain could also be a serious blood vessel problem like DVT or compartment syndrome. Your provider might require additional studies when the diagnosis is not clear.
Your healthcare provider may perform imaging exams to evaluate your calf muscles:
After confirming you have a torn calf muscle, your healthcare provider may recommend a home treatment known as RICE:
Until you receive clearance from your healthcare provider, do not:
After several weeks of RICE, your provider may recommend physical therapy. Therapy can help you regain strength and flexibility in your calf muscle. It can also help you get back to everyday activities, such walking up stairs or pressing down on the gas pedal in your car, with less pain.
You may need surgery for a calf muscle tear if you:
During surgery to repair a calf muscle tear, you receive general anesthesia. Your surgeon makes an incision (cut) in your calf and reattaches the two ends of the ruptured muscle with stitches. You may need to stay in the hospital for a few days after your procedure.
Most people wear a cast on their entire leg for about three weeks after surgery. You might also wear a cast below the knee for an additional three weeks. Once the cast is off, your healthcare provider will tell you when you can resume light physical activity and start physical therapy.
You can reduce your risk of a calf muscle tear by:
Most people recover fully from a torn calf muscle within a few weeks or months, depending on the severity of their injury. Although rare, some people continue to experience prolonged calf pain even after their injury heals.
It’s important to note that even once a torn calf muscle heals, there may be scar tissue in the muscle. That tissue isn’t as strong as the surrounding muscle. This puts you at a higher risk for future calf muscle tears and other injuries in your lower leg.
Contact your doctor if you:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A torn calf muscle is a painful injury in the muscles behind your shin bone. Athletes and people over 40 are especially prone to this type of muscle injury. Calf muscle tears usually heal after a few weeks of conservative treatments, such as rest, ice, compression and elevation. In rare cases, you may need surgery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/24/2021.
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