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Calf pain

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What causes calf pain and what can I do?

The calf is the generic name given to the muscles at the lower back of the leg. Below is a list of some possible causes of calf pain.

  • A calf strain causes soreness and often stiffness in the calf, usually as a result of stretching and micro-tearing of the fibres that make up the muscles. Strains can be caused by exercising the muscles, doing something new or an increase in activity, but strains can also be caused by an acute injury such as slipping and “pulling” the calf. Usually rest, applying ice packs wrapped in a towel, and if needed, anti-inflammatory medication is enough to help the symptoms of mild strains (see important safety information).
  • A calf tear is a more serious injury, usually involving more of the fibres and can be debilitating and take longer to heal. A tear is usually more painful and causes more swelling and may come on suddenly during an activity. Following the POLICE acronym may be helpful (see important safety information) certainly in the early stages, but it may be worth seeing a health professional to have an assessment, especially if it was a particularly bad injury, there is a lot of pain and swelling, or you are unable to walk. It is possible to rupture (fully tear) a muscle and severe injury may even require surgery.
  • DOMs stands for delayed onset of muscle soreness. This may occur a day or more after exercising and usually goes away with rest and recovery. This can happen in any muscle, but it can be common in the calves after running or other activities that utilise the muscles of the lower limb. It is also common in people who hit “leg day” too hard at the gym.
  • Cramps can occur during or after exercising and may be short term or reoccurring. After a bad cramp, your muscles can be sore for a couple of days. If you keep getting cramps, your cramps are severe or they disturb your sleep, then it is worth seeing a medical professional like a Podiatrist or your GP as there can be serious medical conditions causing them.
  • Claudication is a serious calf pain which is caused by a lack of blood flow to the calf muscles. If you get pain like a cramping when you start to walk which eases with rest, but then is there again when you start walking, it is worth seeing a medical professional to get this checked out as it may be related to your circulation. A Podiatrist can check the circulation to your feet by palpating your pulses if possible and listening to them with a Doppler Ultrasound, as well as checking colour, temperature and the appearance of your skin.
  • Referred pain can occur from a problem such as a trapped nerve somewhere else in the body which can lead to pain in the calves. It is also possible to have a problem with your foot mechanics or your pelvis which can change the way you walk and move making you more prone to calf problems and stress through the calf muscles.

When to see a Podiatrist?

Generally a podiatrist may not be the first port of call for calf pain unless it is a mechanical problem or something such as Achilles tendon pain. It is however not uncommon for people to come to the clinic with pains in their legs and calves and they have been told that they have flat feet We can assess their foot mechanics and provide foot orthoses if appropriate, that may help.

Podiatrists can assess and help with many causes of calf pain and can offer expert advice to you. If you book an appointment, it is wise to take your commonly used footwear so the Podiatrist has a good idea of what you are wearing.

If you have a serious injury or have severe swelling, changes in colour or temperature, numbness, tingling or weakness, you should contact your GP or go to A and E or call 111 or 999 based on the severity of the problem.


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Calf pain