Calf muscle tears can prove to be stubborn and sometimes tricky customers to treat. A recent review identified the 6 key factors required for the successful return to sport and activity following injury to this region.
Assess the calf muscle tear
Regardless of whatever injury you have sustained a thorough assessment is essential to get you on the right track. It helps get a handle on what has happened, what stage you are at and what needs to be done.
Without this information you can often go too hard too early with a calf injury. This usually results in more time doing rehab and less time doing the activities you love.
If you want to know more about calf tear anatomy and assessment check out more information here
Early movement and strengthening for calf muscle tears
Based on your symptoms early movement and even strength work is key to establishing a good base for recovery. For some individuals with more significant grades of injury this may be in a non weight bearing scenario and they are likely to require crutches to get around in the first few days.
For lesser grades it is possible that static or isometric exercises may be the best option to begin with or offloaded calf raises.
Essentially in this phase your symptoms will be your guide as they will let you know how hard to push.
Strengthening the calf muscle and lower limb
Your calf complex is not only responsible for pushing you forwards but it is a major shock absorber in walking , running and jumping.
Once the tissue has got to a phase of healing where it is tolerating weight bearing well and should have a nice mature scar forming, strength training is key. Not only for the calf but the whole lower limb.
As a general rule we progress strengthening of the calf in the following manner:
- work on flat surface first in bilateral stance.
- Bilateral stance with added weight
- bilateral stance over step or slanted board, single leg calf raises
- loaded single leg calf raises.
In the early stages symptoms will guide the intensity, load and volume that you can do. As you progress and symptoms of pain resolve this factor hopefully becomes an non issue.
It is likely that the calf needs to be “supported” by better strength in the lower limb muscles as well as the local muscles in this complex.
Getting the spring back in your step after a calf muscle tear
Its not enough just to get the calf muscle strong we need to get it fit for explosive and speed related activities. To do this we need to train not only the muscle system but the elastic components of the tendons related to this tissue.
To do that you need to introduce low level jumping and hopping activities at the right time.
Depending on what you need to get back to will determine how complex and intense this component needs to be. Don’t think if you don’t play sport you don’t need to do this. Its just as important for you integrate this into your rehab as you need to be able to suddenly change direction or cope with coming quickly off a step .
Return to running or sport after the calf muscle tear and have a plan
These are two points that basically overlap as its the last step for some of us in rehab that can be tricky to navigate. This stage requires the introduction of specific skills, drills and strengthening exercise.
You need to be confident that your calf has the required overall ” fitness” to return to sport. You need to be able to combine the strength , power and shock absorption into game day situations or race type intensities.
Tick all these boxes and your calf tear rehabilitation has every chance of success.
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