A calf contusion is caused by a direct impact or trauma to a muscle and can range from mild to severe. Here we explain the symptoms, causes, and treatment for lower leg contusions.
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Symptoms of a calf contusion
Symptoms of a Calf contusion include:
- Instant pain following a direct blow or impact.
- Pain may vary in severity from a niggle to severe, disabling pain.
- For a bad contusion, you will have loss of function and be unable to walk or run properly.
- The area will be tender to touch and you may have pain when stretching the muscles.
- Bruising may appear but this is not always the case. This will depend if the bleeding is contained within the muscle sheath or not.
What is a contusion?
A contusion is an injury to a muscle caused by direct impact or trauma.
This can be from a piece of equipment such as a baseball or hockey stick, or from direct impact to an opponents knee in contact sports.
It is unlike a calf strain which occurs with no external contact.
The muscle gets crushed against the bone. This results in bleeding within the muscle. There are two types of muscle contusion.
Muscles are made up of a bunches of muscle fibres which are surrounded by a muscle sheath.
If the muscle sheath (fascia) is also damage and bleeding can spread throughout the muscle then you are likely to see bruising develop. This is known as an Intermuscular contusion.
If the blood is contained within the sheath then it cannot disperse so easily. Although you are likely to have swelling and restricted movement, visible bruising will not occur.
Structure of skeletal muscle
Complications of calf contusions
If you fail to treat a contusion properly then it may develop into something far more serious.
If you do not apply ice, fail to rest, or massage the calf muscles too soon, then you run the risk of Myositis ossificans. This is where bone growth occurs within the muscle and can be very difficult to treat.
Myositis ossificans occurs because the muscle is crushed against the bone. As a result, your body mistakenly sends new bone repair cells to the site of injury. If left, a small lump of bone can form within the calf muscle.
- More on Myositis ossificans
Treatment for a Calf contusion
As soon as possible apply the PRICE principles (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).
Apply ice or cold therapy as soon as physically possible after injury, and for 10 to 15 minutes every hour during the acute stage. This is usually the first 24 to 48 hours depending on how bad the injury is.
Ice should not be applied directly to the skin as ice burns can occur. Wrap it in a wet tea towel, or use a commercially available hot and cold wrap.
Wear a compression bandage or support. This will help reduce bleeding and swelling. Elevating the limb will help bruising and tissue fluids drain away from the site of injury.
Sports massage can be used, but only after the acute stage has passed to ensure bleeding has stopped). This is a minimum of 3 days. Massage can help relax the muscles and disperse waste products from surrounding tissues.
However, if massage is applied to a muscle too soon after a contusion then myositis ossificans may occur.
- More on Calf massage
Rehabilitation & exercises
When comfortable to do so, begin gentle stretching exercises for the calf muscles.
The length of time you need to wait before beginning strengthening exercises will depend on how severe your contusion is.
- Read more on Calf contusion rehabilitation
We recommend the following products for treating calf strains:
Cold compresion wrap
A cold therapy and compression wrap is essential first aid. It reduces pain and swelling and can also be used to apply heat later in the rehabilitation program.
A neoprene calf support reduces pain and swelling in the early stages. Later in the rehabilitation program, they provide support and protection.
A foam roller is an excellent piece of kit that can be used in place of massage to treat calf injuries. They are also excellent when used regularly as part of your warm-up to help prevent future injury and improve performance.
A heel pad takes the strain off your injured calf muscle by reducing shock and raising your heel, therefore shortening the muscle as you walk.
Calf Strain Rehabilitation Program
Our step by step Calf strain rehabilitation program takes you from initial injury to full fitness.