Calf problems

Calf problems can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • pain
  • bruising
  • tightness
  • stiffness

You don't normally need to see a healthcare professional. New onset or flare-up of a longstanding calf problem should begin to settle within 6 weeks.

What causes calf muscle problems?

Calf problems are usually caused by injuries such as tripping, direct hit or sporting activities.

There are other less common causes of calf problems - such as back problems or circulatory complaints. If you've a hot, swollen, red calf which is tender and tense to touch, please seek medical attention immediately.

Can this cause problems anywhere else?

You may feel some pain in the muscles around your knee, ankle or foot. This should improve as your calf problem gets better.

Occasionally, problems felt in your calf can be due to a back problem - even though you do not feel pain in your back. People with this sort of problem often describe the pain as pins and needles, sharp, hot or burning pain, usually in the back of the calf.

If you experience these for longer than 6 weeks, you may need to speak to your healthcare professional.

Self-help

Keeping active is an essential part of your treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Being physically active throughout your recovery can:

  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
  • help you aim for a healthy body weight

It's recommended you stay at or return to work as quickly as possible during your recovery. You don't need to be pain and symptom-free to return to work.

More about keeping active

Pain treatments

Pain medication can help to reduce the pain and help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.

Speak to your community pharmacist or other healthcare professional about taking medication or other methods of pain relief​. It's important to take medication regularly.

More about taking painkillers

Resting or moving?

Within the first 24 to 48 hours after a calf injury you should try to:

  • rest your calf but avoid long spells of not moving at all
  • move your ankle and knee gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you are awake

After 48 hours:

  • Try to use your leg more - exercise really helps your calf and can relieve pain
  • Do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work - this is important and is the best way to get better
  • When going upstairs, reduce the strain on your calf by leading with your good leg - if there's a handrail, use it
  • When going downstairs, reduce the strain on your calf by leading with your problem leg - if there's a handrail, use it

Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement. Remember to warm up fully before you start sporting activities.

When to speak to a health professional

Speak to your GP as soon as possible if:

  • your calf is hot, swollen or tender and tense to touch - especially if you can't recall an injury
  • you can't put any weight through your leg
  • you can't lift your heel off the floor

Help and support

If, after following the above advice, your calf problem hasn't improved within 6 weeks a referral to a physiotherapist or podiatrist may be of benefit.

If available in your health board area, the Musculoskeletal (MSK) Helpline can refer you to a healthcare professional if you need it.