Torn Calf Muscle

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.


What is a torn calf muscle?

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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Who gets torn calf muscles?

Anyone can get a ruptured calf muscle, but it’s most common in:

  • Anyone with short or tight calf muscles who starts intense physical activity without the proper conditioning.
  • Athletes who play sports that require sudden jumping or changes in direction, such as basketball, soccer or tennis.
  • People over the age of 40 who may have weakened calf muscles due to aging or inflexibility.

How common are torn calf muscles?

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.


Symptoms and Causes

What causes a torn calf muscle?

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.

What does a torn calf muscle feel like?

Symptoms of a torn calf muscle can include:

  • No calf strength, including being unable to balance or bear weight on the injured leg.
  • Snapping or popping sensation in your calf.
  • Sudden pain in the back of your lower leg, like someone kicked your calf.
  • Swelling and bruising in your calf muscle.
  • Visible indentation beneath the skin where the muscle is torn.

In very rare cases, torn calf muscle complications can include:


Diagnosis and Tests

How is a torn calf muscle diagnosed?

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:

  • Ultrasound with Doppler: This type of ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of soft tissue inside your body. It also tracks the way blood flows through your body. This scan allows your provider to check for muscle tears, as well as internal bleeding and blood clots.
  • MRI: An MRI shows detailed images of the soft tissues in your body. This test can help your provider see the difference between muscle injuries and problems with your tendons and ligaments.

Management and Treatment

How are pulled calf muscles treated?

After confirming you have a torn calf muscle, your healthcare provider may recommend a home treatment known as RICE:

  • Rest: Once you feel calf pain, stop doing physical activity and rest your leg. Don’t push through pain, which can make the problem worse. You might be required to use crutches or wear a boot for several days.
  • Ice: Put an ice pack or cold compress on your calf muscles for 20 minutes every two hours. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin.
  • Compression: Apply a compression wrap or sleeve to your calf. Compression helps reduce blood flow to the painful area and minimize swelling.
  • Elevation: Lift your leg into an elevated position, preferably above the level of your heart. Support the entire length of your leg with pillows, blankets or cushions.

Until you receive clearance from your healthcare provider, do not:

  • Apply heat to the injured area.
  • Massage your calf.
  • Walk, exercise or perform physical activity.

You may also need to keep your injury immobilized and protected by wearing a soft cast or boot. Some people need crutches or an assistive device to move around as their injury heals.

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.

Will I need surgery for a calf muscle tear?

You may need surgery for a calf muscle tear if you:

  • Are young and want to return to competitive sports and high-impact activities.
  • Continue to experience calf pain several months after trying nonsurgical treatments.
  • Have a complete muscle tear with serious swelling or internal bleeding.

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.


How can I prevent a torn calf muscle?

You can reduce your risk of a calf muscle tear by:

  • Allowing your calf muscles to rest and recover between games, practices or workouts.
  • Keeping your calf muscles strong and conditioned.
  • Using proper technique when playing sports.
  • Warming up and stretching your calf muscles before physical activity.
  • Wearing supportive footwear that fits properly.

Outlook / Prognosis

What’s the prognosis (outlook) for people with a torn calf muscle?

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.

Living With

When should I contact my doctor?

Contact your doctor if you:

  • Are unable to rise up on your toes.
  • Can’t walk or bear weight on your leg.
  • Experience severe or prolonged pain in your calf.
  • Have trouble moving your ankle or knee.
  • Notice swelling or serious bruising in your lower leg, foot or ankle.

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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/24/2021.

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