Torn Calf Muscle Symptoms And Causes

  • Sherif El-SayedBachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery - MBBS, Health and Wellness, General, UCL, UK
  • Richa Lal MBBS, PG Anaesthesia, University of Mumbai, India

Have you ever felt the agony of a torn calf muscle? Or do you simply want to avoid it?

If you have or are suffering from calf pain, don't worry; this article contains all of the information you need to recognise its symptoms, causes, and treatment. We will cover everything from identifying a torn calf to efficient treatment procedures and prevention methods. 

This will provide you with the knowledge you need to manage this common injury confidently. 


A torn calf muscle, also referred to as a calf muscle rupture or strain, is the partial or full tearing of the calf muscular fibres. This injury often affects the gastrocnemius or soleus muscles, which comprise the majority of the back of the lower leg.1 

The calf muscles are crucial in allowing movement and stability in the lower extremities which are essential for the biomechanics of the ankle joint and foot. This provides the force necessary for movements such as lifting the heel.

Furthermore, the calf muscles play an important role in maintaining balance and providing stability, which are important functions in activities ranging from simple standing to advanced movements.2

The severity of a tear can range from minor to severe, impairing muscle function and generating varied degrees of pain and suffering. The condition is frequently caused by rapid, forceful movements or overexertion, putting strain on the calf muscles.1 This rupture can occur not only in running sports like tennis, football, or skiing but also in everyday activities such as rushing to catch a bus or walking up the stairs.

This emphasises the importance of understanding its symptoms and causes as a torn calf muscle is not exclusive to specific high-impact sports but can result from various physical activities.

Anatomy of the calf muscle

The calf is located on the posterior (back) part of the lower leg and consists of two larger muscles, the gastrocnemius, the soleus, and one smaller muscle called the plantaris muscle. 

The gastrocnemius, the largest, and most superficial muscle, forms the visible bulge that can be seen beneath the skin. It starts or originates from just above the knee joint and extends downwards until it connects to the heel via the Achilles tendon. Due to its size and location, the gastrocnemius muscle is one of the most common sites of a calf strain.1

The soleus sits deeper and stretches just underneath the gastrocnemius. It originates just below the knee and runs down until it joins the gastrocnemius muscle and reaches the Achilles tendon.

Together they operate as the primary plantar flexors and this is what allows us to point our toes downwards and lift our heels. Their movement creates plantar flexion at the upper ankle joint, allowing the heel to be lifted against gravity. This mechanism is critical for movements such as walking and jumping, which require the heel to rise upward.

The plantaris muscle is the smaller muscle located in the calf.

Plantaris and soleus muscle injuries are significantly less prevalent than gastrocnemius injuries.3,6

Symptoms of a torn calf muscle

A torn calf muscle can present with a range of symptoms depending on the degree of the injury. 

  • A sprain is graded on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 signifying modest damage and 3 reflecting severe damage such as a full muscle tear1
  • The most common initial symptom is a sudden and intense pain in the calf region at the time of injury. This pain can be described as sharp, and stabbing-like. Typically, this pain is associated with some sort of muscle tissue damage where grade 1 denotes a slight sprain with the ability to continue activity, but grade 3 denotes a more serious sprain with immobilisation1
  • Swelling and bruising generally develop around the area of injury. A contusion, more commonly known as a bruise, may signify inflammation and potential bleeding within the muscle depending on the severity of the injury 
  • Commonly, a strain results in difficulty bearing weight on the affected leg which ultimately leads to spasms, stiffness, and limited range of motion from the lack of mobility1
  • A grade 3 torn calf muscle would result in a complete loss of muscle function1 

Causes of a torn calf muscle

A torn calf muscle can arise from different circumstances, each of which puts the calf muscle in a vulnerable situation. 

The most common cause of a calf muscle strain is the overexertion of the muscle. This occurs when the muscle fibres are overstretched as a consequence of sharp, sudden movements, or lack of stretching before vigorous exercise.

Calf strains are dominant within sport-related injuries where rapid acceleration or abrupt changes in direction are part of the game. This is due to the failure to prepare the muscle for a demanding physical activity such as an inadequate warm-up.4

Therefore, having a good pre-activity warm-up routine is crucial to avoid an injury to the calf.

The correlation between age and an increase in muscle weakness, which subsequently increases susceptibility to injury, plays a key role in the prevalence of calf injuries in individuals over the age of 40.5 In addition, having a history of previous muscle injuries and scar tissue makes one more susceptible to calf muscle tearing. 

In summary, age, physical fitness level, previous muscle injuries, improper warm-up, and stretching practices are all risk factors for calf muscle sprains. 


The diagnosis of a torn calf muscle involves an approach to assess and confirm the location and extent of the injury.

Confirming the extent of the injury occurs after a patient’s medical history is gathered, and this includes insights about the individual’s overall health, prior injury, and any more relevant information. 

A physical examination to evaluate strength, range of motion, and location of tenderness can help a healthcare professional determine the severity of the strain on the affected calf.

A combination of palpation, strength testing, and stretching can be performed to localise strains to the gastrocnemius or soleus muscles. Typically for a gastrocnemius strain the pain is more medial whereas for a soleus strain, pain tends to be on the sides.1

In addition, a healthcare professional can anatomically determine the muscle injured based on the different origins.1

To further confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the injury, imaging tests such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be utilised to get a more detailed look. 

Treatment options

It's important to remember that the body's response when stressed is inflammation, which can cause your calf to become heated, swollen, and painful. Depending on the degree of your injury, this inflammatory phase could last one to several days.

Initially, the R.I.C.E. treatment (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is used as a fundamental approach to reduce swelling and manage soreness. 

Applying ice for 20 minutes every 2 hours aids in decreasing recovery time by decreasing the temperature and swelling.

Once the calf feels better, it is crucial to start physical therapy exercises to promote healing and prevent re-injury. It is crucial to remember to start slow and to not push it in case of pain. Once the initial exercises start to feel good, a good follow-up exercise is stretching the injured calf. 

Everyone heals differently, so do not rush the recovery, nor get frustrated, as injuries require time to heal. By extending and perfecting your healing, you decrease the chances of re-injury.

Recovery timeline

Understanding both short-term and long-term rehabilitation goals is essential when navigating the recovery timetable for a torn calf muscle. 

Individuals should expect a progressive reduction in pain and swelling in the short term by adhering to the recommended therapies such as rest, ice, and physical therapy exercises. 

However, true recovery generally requires more than just a temporary break, demanding long-term rehabilitation efforts. The cornerstone of the extended rehabilitation process is setting goals for increasing muscle strength, improving flexibility, and eventually returning to normal activities.

When to seek medical attention

Pain that continues or worsens despite conventional therapies such as rest and over-the-counter pain medicines ought to require a visit to a healthcare expert. 

If symptoms intensify, such as greater swelling, bruising, or increasing discomfort, seeking immediate medical attention is critical to avoiding serious problems. 

Furthermore, the inability to bear weight on the affected leg indicates a serious disability that requires quick attention.

Any of the symptoms we discussed should not be ignored, since early action will have a substantial impact on the recovery process and prevent the injury from worsening. 

It is always best to seek the advice of a healthcare professional for a full evaluation and a personalised treatment plan depending on the individual circumstances of the torn calf muscle.


  • Recognising the different muscles and symptoms of a torn calf muscle is critical for effective care and rehabilitation
  • Early identification and management are critical in making the healing process smooth and minimising serious consequences
  • If you believe that your symptoms have worsened it is critical to seek expert medical guidance 


  1. Bryan Dixon J. Gastrocnemius vs. soleus strain: how to differentiate and deal with calf muscle injuries. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. 2009;2(2): 74–77.
  2. Reynolds RF, Smith CP, Yang R, Griffin R, Dunn A, McAllister C. Effects of calf muscle conditioning upon ankle proprioception. PLoS ONE. 2020;15(8): e0236731.
  3. Spina AA. The plantaris muscle: anatomy, injury, imaging, and treatment. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. 2007;51(3): 158–165.
  4. Green B, Pizzari T. Calf muscle strain injuries in sport: a systematic review of risk factors for injury. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2017;51(16): 1189–1194.
  5. Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care [Internet]. 2004 [cited 2024 Mar 26]; 7(4):405–10. Available from:
  6. Campbell JT. Posterior calf injury. Foot and Ankle Clinics. 2009;14(4): 761–771.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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