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Apr 19

APMA Staff

Is Your Calf Pain a Simple Strain or Something Worse?

by APMA Staff

Is Your Calf Pain a Simple Strain or Something Worse?

Your muscle is throbbing and it won’t stop; should you call 911?

Perhaps it occurs as you lie in bed after a long day spent traveling by plane. Maybe it happens in the middle of a bike ride or afternoon jog. Or it’s possible you just started exercising again before it struck. All you know is now you’re dealing with mind-numbing pain, a terrible stabbing that radiates across your calf in short bursts. What in the world is going on?

Your calf pain could have one of several causes. Each type of injury presents itself similarly, but there are important differences. All of them will affect your feet in one way or another.

1. Cramp

A cramp is the most common cause of calf pain. The condition consists of an unintentional spasm or contraction. This is usually minor and resolves itself within minutes. More serious cramps may last as long as 24 hours.

Cramps are typically caused by overworking the calf muscle, frequently by running or exercising without getting a stretch in beforehand. Going from a period of relative inactivity to a stressful workout regimen is also a frequent culprit, as is dehydration.

Treatment is as simple as rest and rehydration. Think of cramps as your body’s way of saying “Stop, you’re doing something wrong!” Ignoring cramps can lead to pulled muscles or other, more serious conditions.

2. Pulled Muscle (Calf Strain)

The second most common cause of calf pain is a strain. This can vary in severity, from an overstretching of the calf muscles to a complete muscle tear. Think of your muscles as fabric—a low grade calf strain will stretch the muscle, while a high grade strain will completely tear the muscle fibers. Higher grade strains may also present with some type of bruising.

Calf strains can last anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours, depending on severity. You might feel sharp pain or weakness, and a throbbing pain that radiates throughout the calf. The muscle may also feel unusually tight.

Although low grade calf strains can be treated at home and be resolved within weeks, higher grade strains may need the attention of a doctor as the muscle is torn. If you experience repeated calf strains, contact your doctor immediately—this may be a sign of a more serious illness.

3. A Blood Clot (Deep Vein Thrombosis)

Blood clots are much rarer than the previous two conditions, and several times more dangerous. Clotting is a normal function of our bodies: when you get a cut or other injury, your blood clots to form a scab. This becomes a seal while the wound heals.

However, low blood flow can cause blood to settle in one location. Several things can make this more likely, including prolonged periods of sitting, high cholesterol, and being over the age of 60

In some cases, part of the thrombosis can break off and flow into the heart or lungs, causing life-threatening conditions such as heart failure or breathing problems.

Although blood clots don’t always present with noticeable symptoms, signs can include warm skin, noticeable redness or swelling around the site of the thrombosis, and calf pain.

A blood clot differs from a calf cramp or a pulled muscle in that the pain could possibly last for several days or even months. There is also less likely to be noticeable redness with those other conditions.

Diagnosis and treatment will need to be handled by a doctor, the latter generally consisting of blood-thinners.

Have any questions about calf injuries? Visit our clinic in Edmonds, WA

The trained specialists at Ankle & Foot of Edmonds can answer all of your questions. Call 425-775-6996, or complete our online form to set up an appointment.


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