Calf Strain or Tear

What is a Calf Strain or Tear?

A calf strain, or ‘pulled calf’, is one of the most common soft tissue injuries. Pulling your calf means there’s a strain or small tear within one of the muscles in the lower back of your leg that make up your calf. A calf strain happens when those muscles are overstretched from exercise. This is a common injury especially among athletes and runners. During sporting activities such as sprinting, these long muscles have to cope with high internal forces and rapid changes in muscle length and mode of contraction leading to a higher risk of strain. Calf strains may become chronic because of long-term injury or acute from brief overpulling.

Cause and Symptoms

Symptoms of a calf strain can depend on the severity of the injury. At the time of injury, a sudden pain is often felt in the calf, and the patient often reports an audible “pop” in the calf, or they have a feeling as though someone has kicked them in the back of the leg. Other signs and symptoms that may arise after that are:

  • Substantial pain and swelling (usually within 24 hours)
  • Tenderness to touch at the point of injury
  • Bruising that appears within a few hours or days
  • Stretching the muscle will produce pain
  • Inability to stand up on the ball of your foot (loss of strength)


Muscle strains are graded from I to III, with grade III being the most severe. Contact your physio to allow them to help diagnose the severity of the strain and make a personalized treatment plan. To prevent a calf strain from occuring it’s important to do a proper warm-up prior to your exercise, and to resist overtraining Treatment and rehabilitation will depend on the severity of the muscle strain. The most important treatment of a calf strain consists of rest and allowing adequate healing time. Additional treatment options are:

  • Wear shoes with no/a low heel
  • Use an ice or cold compress
  • Gentle passive stretching
  • Isometric exercises, then moving onto concentric exercises (consult your physio!)