While muscle injuries are the most common cause of calf pain, there are others that may stem from circulation problems, knee joint problems, and other conditions. Determining the cause of your calf pain can help guide appropriate treatment.
Some of the more common causes include:
This is the most common cause of acute onset calf pain. Usually, this injury occurs during a sports or exercise activity. Common symptoms of a calf strain include pain, swelling, and bruising.
The medial gastrocnemius is the part of the calf muscle most commonly injured. The medial head of the gastrocnemius is one of the three major calf muscles that is the source of pain when the calf muscle is strained.
The plantaris muscle is a thin, small muscle that is not even present in about 10 percent to 20 percent of the population. The muscle runs along the gastrocnemius muscle but is a tiny fraction of the size. The plantaris muscle can rupture, causing a sudden, snapping pain in the back of the leg. Because the muscle is of no functional importance, treatment is non-operative.
The Achilles tendon is the connection between the calf muscles and the heel. Calf pain is usually considered pain in the softer, muscular portion of the lower leg, whereas an Achilles tendon rupture typically causes pain in the back of the heel. Achilles ruptures that occur higher up on the tendon should be considered when evaluating calf pain.
A Baker's cyst is not a true cyst. Rather, it is a collection of knee-joint fluid that has pooled in the back of the knee. When excessive amounts of fluid accumulate, it can cause pain in the back of the leg. Occasionally, the Baker's cyst will rupture, causing the fluid to enter the calf region.
A blood clot needs to be considered as a cause of calf pain, especially when the calf pain is not the immediate result of an injury. Blood clots can form in the deep veins of the leg, causing a blockage in circulation. This may cause swelling and pain in the calf. Blood clots are more common in the days and weeks after injuries and surgical procedures. Knowing if you have a blood clot is important. Without treatment, the clot can travel to the lungs, causing difficulty breathing.
Cramps in the leg muscles are a common cause of calf pain. Usually, the symptoms are intermittent (not constant pain) and relieved by stretching and heat application.