In our fast-paced modern world, anything that slows you down can be a major inconvenience. Your calf muscle is instrumental in the walking process, so any issues with it can leave you limping behind the pack.
Your body is a complex piece of machinery, and with so many moving parts, there’s plenty that can go wrong. Your calf is no exception. The potential causes of calf pain range from the relatively benign, such as a bruise, to the potentially life-threatening, such as DVT.
Most of the causes can be treated with a simple combination of rest, elevation, and painkillers. But if you have any of the following symptoms as well as pain in your calf, you may have developed a more serious condition, and you should go see a doctor:
- redness, warmth, and tenderness
- tingling or numbness
- unusual coolness or pale color in the calf
- weakness of the leg
- fluid retention
Other causes of calf pain may not be immediately dangerous, but can still require medical intervention to remedy.
Anyone who’s started exercising again after a period of inactivity will be familiar with muscle strains. They normally happen due to overuse, fatigue, and improper use of the muscle. Any exercise that requires a lot from your legs, like running, riding a bike, or swimming, can be the source of your soreness.
The strain itself is caused by the muscle fibers in your calf partially or fully tearing. This generally hurts as bad as it sounds, and you’ll notice a sudden pain in your leg as soon as it happens. It’s likely that it will limit your range of movement and it can hurt even when you’re not using the muscle.
Most strains can be treated by ice, heat, rest, and NSAIDs like ibuprofen. Worse strains might need the attention of a doctor and physiotherapy.
One of an athlete’s mortal enemies, cramping is when your muscles suddenly and painfully contract. Cramps can last for just a few moments, all the way up to several minutes. They are a common condition, with a number of causes, which include:
- starting new exercises
- doing more exercise than normal
- lack of stretching
- a loss of electrolytes through sweating
- prolonged physical activity
- weak muscles
- low levels of calcium or magnesium
The best way to treat a cramp is to extend the muscle as soon as possible after the cramp starts, either by standing on it or by lying on your back, extending your leg, and having a friend firmly push your toes towards the ground.
Your Achilles tendon is a tough band of fibers that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. It is strong, but not very stretchy, and when pushed too far, it can become inflamed or tear. This normally happens when taking on a new exercise regime, or in sports like tennis that require repeated starting and stopping. Make sure to stretch properly, and warm up and cool down before and after exercising, in order to avoid damaging your tendon.
The symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include inflammation, swelling, pain in the back of your leg, and a limited range of motion when you flex your foot.
For most Achilles tendon injuries, you can stick to the R.I.C.E method of treatment: rest, ice, compress, and elevate. You should try to avoid straining it for the first week after the injury, and then do some gentle stretches to encourage it to repair.
If the pain doesn’t go away, or if it gets worse, you should go and talk to a doctor.
A contusion, or bruise, is normally the result of a traumatic impact, such as a fall or being hit by something. This causes the capillaries in the surrounding area to burst, and the blood released into the tissues causes the discoloration. Bruising ranges from a vivid purple to a pale yellow as it heals.
The healing process normally happens by itself. But you should consult your physician if you are getting unexplained bruises, or if they keep reappearing in the same place without any injury to cause them.
Arterial claudication is when the arteries that provide blood flow to your legs become narrow or blocked. This is normally noticed as a pain that occurs after a few minutes of walking, and it will not be noticeable when at rest. It should stop within 10 minutes after you stop walking.
Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN) is a common complication of diabetes that results in nerve damage in the legs, feet, arms, and hands.
Other symptoms of DPN include:
- muscle cramps
- muscle weakness
- sharp pain
- loss of balance and coordination
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) became well-known as the condition that can occur when you take a long-haul flight and don’t move for many hours. However, there are various other factors that can contribute, such as smoking or complications from medication.
It is a blood clot that can occur in the deep veins of your legs and arms, and it can result in severe pain that usually gets worse when standing or walking.
Other symptoms of DVT can include:
- visible veins
- skin discoloration
- a feeling of warmth in the calf
DVT can be a life-threatening condition, and you should see a doctor if you develop these symptoms.
There are three simple steps you can take to avoid most of the causes of calf pain.
- Stretch thoroughly before and after all exercise. Making sure that your muscles are ready to work out is very important, and it encourages them to repair themselves and grow stronger.
- Increase your exercise program gradually. Whether you’re just getting back to exercise, or you are adding to an existing workload, a sudden increase in activity is one of the main causes of muscle injury. Also, make sure to warm up and cool down after each workout. Consider some gentle jogging on the spot, to help encourage blood flow and relax your muscles.
- Drink more water. Dehydration is one of the major causes of muscle cramps, especially in athletes and people living in warmer areas. Add electrolytes to your water to increase the hydration and reduce the chances of cramping.
The Finish Line
Most of the causes of calf pain are due to exercise and overuse, and they can be treated by a combination of rest, ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory painkillers. However, some of the causes can be more dangerous, so you shouldn’t take pain in your calf lightly, especially if accompanied by the symptoms mentioned above. If the pain doesn’t go away or it gets worse, have a chat with your doctor.