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Calf Muscle Strain(Pulled Calf Muscle; Gastrocnemius Strain; Gastrocnemius Tear; Gastrocnemius Muscle Injury)

A calf muscle strain is a partial or complete tear of the small fibers of the muscles. The calf muscles are located in the back of your lower leg.

The Calf Muscles

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A calf muscle strain can be caused by:

  • Stretching the calf muscles beyond the amount of tension they can withstand
  • Suddenly putting stress on the calf muscles when they are not ready for the stress
  • A direct blow to the calf muscles
Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of developing a calf muscle strain:

  • Participation in sports that require bursts of speed. This includes track sports like running, hurdles, or long jump. Other sports include basketball, soccer, football, or rugby.
  • Previous strain or injury to the area
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Tight calf muscles
  • Poor conditioning

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain and tenderness in the calf
  • Stiffness in the calf muscles
  • Weakness of the calf muscles
  • Pain when pushing off the foot or standing on tiptoe
  • Bruising on the calf
  • Popping sensation as the muscle tears

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Most calf muscle strains can be diagnosed with a physical exam. Images may be needed of the area if severe damage is suspected. Images may be taken with MRI scan or ultrasound.

Muscle strains are graded according to their severity:

  • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of muscle fibers
  • Grade 2—Partial tearing of muscle fibers
  • Grade 3—Complete tearing of muscle fibers; this may also be called a rupture or avulsion

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of your injury. Treatment steps may include:

Supportive Care

Your muscle will need time to heal. RICE is often the main part of treatment:

  • Rest—Activities will need to be restricted at first. Normal activities will be reintroduced gradually.
  • Ice—Ice therapy may help relieve swelling. Heat or cold may be advised throughout recovery if they provide benefits.
  • Compression—Used for a limited time, compression bandages can provide gentle pressure to help move fluids out of the area.
  • Elevation—Keeping the area elevated can help fluids drain out or prevent fluids from building up.

Prescription or over-the-counter medications may be advised to reduce pain.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist will assess the muscle. An exercise program will be created to help recovery and to stretch and strengthen the muscle.


To reduce the chance of calf muscle strain:

  • Keep your calf muscles strong and flexible, so they can absorb the energy of sudden physical stress
  • Learn the proper technique for exercise and sporting activities to decrease stress on all your muscles


American Council on Exercise

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


Health Canada

Healthy U


Armfield DR. Sports-related muscle injury in the lower extremity. Clin Sports Med. 2006;25(4):803-42.

Calf strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated November 3, 2012. Accessed March 10, 2015.

Campbell JT. Posterior calf injury. Foot Ankle Clin. 2009 Dec;14(4):761-771.

Douis H, Gillett M, et al. Imaging in the diagnosis, prognostication, and management of lower limb muscle injury. Semin Musculoskelet Radiol. 2011 Feb;15(1):27-41.

Johns Hopkins sports medicine patient guide to muscle strain. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: Accessed March 10, 2015.

Sprains, strains, and tears. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: Published 2011. Accessed March 10, 2015.

1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.

Last reviewed March 2015 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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