Calf Strain

Calf strain is one of the most common injuries in orthopedics and sports medicine. The specialist speaks of a distension. As with strains of other muscles, the cause of a calf strain is excessive stretching of the muscle.

In itself, the calf strain is a trivial injury, which occurs in the vast majority of cases in athletes and does not require special therapy. Running sports, soccer or tennis in particular are sports with an increased risk of calf strain. In the case of very severe or long-lasting complaints, the injury should be clarified in order to exclude a more serious cause for the pain. There are several muscles on the calf, mostly the triceps surae muscle is affected.


A pulled calf causes a number of typical complaints. Initially, there is an unusual or excessive strain on the calf. Initially, the calf strain is felt by a slight pull on the back of the lower leg, which develops into a stabbing pain as it progresses.

This is an important criterion for distinguishing a pulled calf from a torn muscle fibre of the lower leg or a torn muscle fibre of the calf, where the pain suddenly shoots up and does not gradually get worse. Cramp-like complaints are often described. The attempt to resume the previous activity after a short break is usually not possible due to the pain.

After a short time, a hardening of the calf is felt, which is explained by a slight swelling in the muscle. In addition, the muscle contracts reflexively. Pain and damage to the musculature cause a loss of calf function when the calf is pulled, which can be very pronounced depending on the extent of the complaints.

Typically, it is difficult to climb stairs and it is also difficult to stand on the tips of the toes. Bleeding does not occur and swellings are not visible from the outside. The musculature consists of many small fibers that are bundled together to form a muscle.

They contain a large number of elements connected in series, the sarcomeres, which cause the contraction of the muscle. Due to the constant alternation of tension and slackening of a muscle, the muscle fibers are stretchable. However, excessive stretching leads to injury and overstretching of these elements: the muscle is pulled.

Typical movements that lead to calf strain are those in which a sudden heavy load is applied to the muscle. This is especially the case when the knee is stretched with the foot raised at the same time, as is the case, for example, with the lunge in tennis. Running uphill therefore leads to calf strain just as often as running on heavy and uneven terrain.

However, even maximum loads on the calf in a normal leg position can often cause a calf strain. Typical movement sequences for this are fast starts and sudden, repeated accelerations with abrupt braking. This explains the increased risk for tennis players and footballers.

Especially for hobby athletes who do not have well-trained muscles, a pulled calf is not uncommon. In addition to the causal load, external circumstances also increase the risk of a pulled calf. The main cause in this context is an insufficiently warmed up musculature.

Due to the non-optimal blood circulation, the muscle fibers are more susceptible, which plays a role especially in combination with cold and wet weather. In addition to this, tired and overstrained muscles are predestined to suffer from calf strain. An unbalanced diet, especially with a lack of fluids and a deficiency of certain nutrients such as calcium or magnesium, can promote such a sports injury. Finally, foot malpositions or incorrect running shoes with a lack of cushioning or a poorly adapted shape make the development of a calf strain more likely.