Calf cramps are more often then not immediately debilitating. Following a comprehensive assessment, the physiotherapist may be able to determine the cause of the calf pain. A cramping calf is equivalent to a low grade muscle strain.
In the event that the athlete’s symptoms have risen from an injury to the soleus muscle, rehabilitation for this injury needs to commence as soon as possible in order to prevent further injury as well as avoid delays in returning to sport. Treatment for the calf injury depends on the severity of the muscle strain.
The varying degrees of muscle injury to the calf are:
Grade 1 strain: Mild injury <10 degrees muscle fibre disruption
Grade 2 strain: Moderate injury; 10-50% muscle fibre disruption
Grade 3 strain: Severe injury; 50 – 100% disruption of muscle fibres.
HOW DO YOU TREAT CALF CRAMP?
Treatment involves the RICER (rest, ice , compression, elevation and referral) to alleviate any inflammation, a progressive strengthening program provided that the athlete experiences improvement in symptoms, proprioceptive training and sports-specific training. It may take a minimum of three weeks for the injury to recover (and that’s just for a grade I or occasionally grade II injury) and as you can imagine, this is a long time off training for the athlete at any level!
Athletes are prone to developing a level of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following training sessions, however, the sensation of a deep dull ache or even a mild cramp that lasts 1-2 days post training or following a game may be an indication of injury to the soleus muscle ( grade 1 or 2 strain). In some cases, when pain levels are elevated and accompanied by swelling and loss of function, there may be a full thickness tear of the muscle. Other possible causes of calf pain include injury to the gastrocnemius muscle or Achilles tendon while cramping may also be caused due to a lack of potassium (hypokalemia).