Soleus strain: Calf strains and other injuries

Muscle injuries are the most common injuries in sports. Correctly diagnosing and treating muscle strain is vital for a full and speedy recovery. Identifying the injured muscle and getting suitable treatment can help prevent reinjury.

In this article, learn about soleus strains and other common calf injuries, as well as how to prevent and treat them.

What is a soleus strain?

Soleus injuries are relatively common in runners. This type of injury is known as an overuse injury, which is why endurance and long-distance runners are at higher risk.

Injuries commonly occur as a result of fatigue or overtraining. They can also happen when the knee is flexed for a long time while running, such as during uphill running.

Other calf injuries, including gastrocnemius strains, are more common in athletes who sprint, including tennis players.

The gastrocnemius is the muscle in the calf that it is most common to strain. Also located behind the knee, the gastrocnemius is larger than the soleus.

While soleus injuries typically result from overuse, a gastrocnemius strain is more likely to be a sudden injury.

Commonly called tennis leg, this strain is often the result of a quick movement, such as sprinting or jumping.

To do a calf wall stretch:

  • Face a wall and place the hands on the wall at eye level.
  • Extend the leg with the soleus strain a step behind the other leg.
  • Bend the front knee and move the hips and chest toward the wall while keeping the back heel on the floor.
  • Hold for 15–30 seconds and repeat 2–4 times.

A person can also do this stretch with both knees bent.

Bilateral calf stretch

To do a bilateral calf stretch:

  • Place a book on the floor in front of the wall and put the front half of the foot on top of it, keeping the heel on the floor.
  • Lean forward to feel a stretch in the calf, using the wall for balance if necessary.
  • To increase the stretch, use a thicker book.
  • Hold for 15–30 seconds and repeat 2–4 times.

This stretch will also work with the knees bent.

Ankle plantar flexion

To do ankle plantar flexion:

  • Sit on the floor with the legs extended.
  • Gently point the toes forward.
  • Relax back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 8–12 times.

People can also do this exercise while standing if it does not cause pain.

Ankle dorsiflexion

To do ankle dorsiflexion:

  • Sit on the floor with the legs extended.
  • Gently stretch the toes back toward the body.
  • Relax back to the starting position.
  • Repeat 8–12 times.

When to see a doctor

Research indicates that up to 10 percent of people who have symptoms of a soleus strain or a gastrocnemius strain could have deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

DVT is a blood clot in the leg that can cause severe complications if it moves to the lungs. It requires immediate medical attention.

A person should contact a doctor immediately if they experience the following symptoms in the calf as these could indicate DVT:

  • severe acute pain
  • significant tenderness
  • swelling
  • discoloration, bruising, or a visible defect
  • redness

Getting a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan will help speed up recovery time and prevent reinjury. A doctor may also recommend physiotherapy for rehabilitation if the strain is severe.

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