Calf injuries

Calf problems are usually caused by injuries such as tripping or sport activities. 

There are other less common causes of calf problems - such as circulatory complaints.

Calf problems usually settle within 6 weeks

Keeping active

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
  • prevent weight gain

More about keeping active

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.

What about sports?

You should take your time before taking part in any sports after a calf problem. If you take part in sports too soon you could be injured again.

Before doing sports, you should:

  • have no swelling
  • be able to move your knee and ankle properly through full range of movement
  • have full or close to full strength
  • be able to take your weight through your leg without limping

Remember to stretch and warm up fully before sports.

Can my calf problem cause trouble 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 a week, you may need to speak to your doctor.

Do I need to see my doctor?

You don't normally need to see your GP if you follow the right advice and take the right medication.

Your calf problem should improve over the next 6 weeks.

If you experience any of the following, you should speak to your GP as soon as possible:

  • Heat, swelling and tenderness in your calf, especially if you can't recall an injury
  • Pain you would describe as pins and needles, sharp, hot or burning pain usually in the back of the calf that doesn't improve after a week
  • Unable to put any weight though your leg
  • Unable to lift your heel off the floor
  • Pain that worsens
  • Pins and needles or muscle weakness in your leg
  • Your calf problem hasn't improved within 6 weeks

Find your nearest GP Practice

Musculoskeletal (MSK) Helpline

If you have a calf problem, the Musculoskeletal Advice and Triage Service (MATS) can provide information and advice to help with your problem, and refer you to a healthcare professional if you need it.
How to contact