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Why Does My Calf Hurt?

The majority of calf pain can be attributed to two relatively minor issues, but there are also some more serious potential underlying causes. So if you are experiencing calf pain be sure to read this post in full.


The term “calf muscle” actually refers to two muscles; the gastrocnemius and the soleus muscle. The  gastrocnemius is the larger muscle, with the soleus muscle sitting beneath the gastrocnemius. These two muscles run down the back of the lower leg and join to form the Achilles tendon, which connects to the heel.

The most common problems that can result in calf pain are cramps and muscle strain. A cramp is the involuntary contraction of muscles, often a symptom of overuse of the muscle or dehydration. A strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is forced outside of its normal range of motion, resulting in the stretching or tearing of the muscle or tendon.

A tear in the muscle may present with slow development of pain or can occur with sudden sharp pain that feels like you have been kicked in the leg or have sudden feeling of a “POP” in the leg. A torn muscle can also be associated with bruising and swelling in the area. Fortunately, conditions such as these can be easily treated at home, with massages and stretches working to alleviate cramps, and the R.I.C.E. technique (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for strains.  

While those may be the most common causes of calf pain and will be to blame in the majority of cases, it is important to be able to recognise the signs that your calf pain may be coming from something more serious.  

Calf pain can be a symptom of sciatica, which is when an injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve refers pain, numbness, and tingling down the lower leg to the calf. If sharp pangs can be felt when sitting, sneezing or coughing, that is an indication of sciatica, and you should visit a doctor or physiotherapist as soon as possible.  

Another possible cause of calf pain is compartment syndrome, a very serious condition that can be either acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term). Compartment syndrome is when intra-compartmental pressure builds up in a muscle. This prevents the flow of blood and lymph, meaning less oxygen and nutrients reach past that point to the muscle and more toxic waste builds up in the muscle. The process leads to ischemia of the muscle tissue which is where cells die due to lack of oxygen. Symptoms include intense pain, a burning sensation, and tightness. This condition requires immediate medical review. 

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is another condition which occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins. The symptoms include calf pain, warm feeling, and red skin discoloration around the affected area. DVT can be caused from reduced circulation or altered blood clotting from injury to vein, post-surgery, medications and reduced movement. DVT can be fatal, so it is crucial to get it checked out immediately if you suspect it.  

The last major condition that could be a cause of calf pain is diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which, as the name implies, is a condition affecting diabetics. Peripheral neuropathy refers to damage to the nerves from high blood sugar. Depending on the nerves affected symptoms can range from pain, weakness, tingling, and aches If you have been diagnosed with any form of diabetes and present with these symptoms you should get checked out as soon as possible. If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes, you should consider the possibility that it may be the cause of your pain.

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