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Prevention and treatment of calf strain

Posted 16 April 2015
Written by Ally Gurney

I recently treated a patient who was complaining of tension in her calf muscles. She hadn’t had a recent change in her exercise levels so the only thing that we could put it down to was being dragged around the Downs by her dog in her heavy wellies. This got me thinking, how much more would those muscles take in the wet weather before she started to experience injuries in her lower limb?

As we’ve all heard so many times, prevention is better/cheaper than the cure so here’s some advice for preventing calf injuries. Don’t worry all you readers who are going, ‘I don’t have a dog, what’s the Downs? It’s sunny and dry here!’, these small changes can be applicable to you also, especially if you’re on the migration to flip flops with the associated increased risk of planter fasciitis!
  • Are you about to start running or cycling after hibernating with the rest of us fair weather exercisers?
  • Have you recently bought a new horse that is requiring a little more work on the jump than your legs were anticipating?
  • Is the volleyball season kicking off for you?
  • Are you working on your tennis serve?
  • Have you dusted off your downhill bike ready to hit the trails?
Whatever tickles your sporting fancy, get your body prepared!

Technicalities…
The calf consists of the superficial gastrocnemius muscle which has a medial and lateral head which attach past the knee into the posterior femur and the deeper soleus muscle; a postural muscle which provides the bulk of the calf complex and inserts below the knee.  Both of these muscles attach into the Achilles tendon which in turn attaches into the heel bone, the calcaneus.  Calf strains most commonly occur in the medial head of the gastrocnemius or in the musculotendinos junction, i.e. where the calf inserts into the tendon, the most common mechanism of injury is a sudden burst of acceleration or misjudging a step and overloading the calf by dropping the heel down (something to look out for when you’re flagging in your last stretch of your run).

Return to sport…
As with many muscular injuries; the time out of activity in rehabilitation and recovery can be anywhere from ten days to six months depending on the severity of the injury.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… prevention is better than the cure!

So let’s prevent…
I have designed this short exercise programme to be performed at least 4 times a week, progressing over 4 weeks, aiming to improve calf strength, length and power to adapt the muscle to be strong and robust.
 
Week 1
1. Double leg heel raises
2. Down dog alternating heel raises
3. Double leg heel drops
4. Single leg heel raises

Week 2
5. Single leg heel drops
6. Stepping lunges
7. Static lunge heel lifts

Week 3
8. Double leg heel bounces
9. Falling eccentric calf
10. Double leg heel hops forward and backward

Week 4
11. Plyometric lunges
12. Single leg heel bounces
13. Double leg mini jumps with bent knees and raised heels

And, as after any activities, you must stretch...
Stretches: Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Quadriceps, Hamstrings

These activities can be performed alongside your usual training and routine however you must ensure that you warm up sufficiently and stretch religiously to reduce risk of injury.
And if you’re looking for a new sport this summer, check out this list! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/wellbeing/diet/3355936/10-hot-sports-for-summer.html

I would love to hear your feedback on my blog posts and any experiences you have relating to the topic.

Go forth and be active…

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