The calf (gastrocnemius) muscle is one of the most common recipients of tears. It makes sense, as during activity and sport the muscles in your lower extremities receive the brunt of muscle load and contraction. A calf muscle tear can happen when pivoting to change direction or when suddenly accelerating, but can also happen at any point when casually running or jumping. While it can occur at any age, it is more common in middle-aged (above 40) individuals who continue to participate in variety of strenuous activities, even when applying proper form. Severity is broken down into Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 tears, with recovery time running anywhere from 2 weeks to six months, depending upon Grade. But you know this already, right? You’ve been through it before, and find yourself falling prey to a tear once again, prompting you to frustratingly ask “Why do I keep tearing my calf muscle?“. That is why we are going to dispense with the scientific definitions surrounding calf muscle tears, and dive right into what you demand to know, along with practical tips to keeping you free from the injury in the years to come.
4 Reasons Why You Continue to Tear Your Calf Muscle and What Can Be Done to Prevent it from Reoccurring
1. You’re Not Letting the Prior Injury Properly Recover
This is public enemy number one when it comes to reoccurring injuries of any kind, but especially calf muscle tears.
If you had a Grade 3 tear before, the pain and debilitating loss of function dictated a visit to the physician and you most likely went through a full physiotherapy regime. But far too often victims of Grade 1 and 2 tears don’t go through the whole rehab gauntlet. Sure, you may have hopped (on one leg) into the ER for an examination and confirmation of the tear, but did you follow up with a physiotherapist? If the latter is true, did you attend enough sessions? When it comes to properly rehabilitating a calf tear, one or two is not nearly enough. You need to work with a physiotherapist for at least a half-dozen sessions, which will typically be covered to a significant extent by your corporate medical plan (as applicable), so be sure to max it out. Even without comprehensive medical coverage, you should still invest in your health by doing an adequate number of sessions as you only cheat yourself by skipping those all-important follow-ups. It can cost you a lot more in lost wages/earnings and quality of life later on when the injury returns.
Now remember, your physio-guided rebab does not start and end in the clinic. You must take everything they have provided home with you, including instructions about rest, icing, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E), so resist the urge to do too much too soon as getting back on the horse right away is a precursor to chronic re-injury. Your physiotherapist will also prescribe a regime of exercises, movements, and stretches – follow them through to the tee. Purchase approved (by your physiotherapist) DIY home physiotherapy equipment (bands, rollers, balance balls, etc.) that will assist in your recovery and don’t sell them on Craigslist once you’re healed, as you will need to apply them for future warm-up and cool-down work, which leads us to the next point.
2. You’re Not Warming Up and Cooling Down
There’s a darn good chance that your chronic calf tears are also the result of inadequate warm-ups and cool-downs.
After proper rehab, you may be feeling confident and even stronger than ever after knocking out two to six months of high-intensity calf raises, but without warming up prior to activity you set the table for yet another tear. In the past, you may have been able to grab the basketball on a whim and head out to meet friends for a game of pickup without much thought, but after sustaining a calf tear, all that has changed, like it or not. You now need to allow yourself 10-15 minutes to stretch and warm-up your calf and other posterior-chain muscles to loosen up tightness that may otherwise result in another tear. The same stretches and movements provided by your physiotherapist in rehab will serve you well in this capacity, as will the fitness equipment that you purchased. Keep the gear in your gym bag or backpack and bring it with you as you should stick around the court, track, or field to cool-down post-activity too, as this will also be instrumental in keeping your muscles loose and flexible.
3. You’re Not Wearing the Right Footwear
Overpronation is when the arches of your foot roll inward or downward when walking, running, accelerating, and pivoting. This overpronation can lead to calf tightness, strain, and tearing. Overpronation may be the result of irregularities in your Gait, and if this the case, it’s no wonder that you are experiencing chronic calf injuries (along with other physical issues, potentially). Thankfully, you can address this irregularity by wearing custom orthotics. By consulting with a physiotherapy clinic that offers Gait analysis and custom orthotics and you will take a big step towards a life free of calf injuries.
4. You’re Fueling Muscle Tears by Not Eating Right
This one may come as a surprise to you, although it shouldn’t given that nutrition (or a lack thereof) is so closely tied to physical health and fitness. There are certain nutrients that you may be lacking on a daily basis that may be contributing to your chronic calf tears in that you have not afforded your prior injury with the adequate fuel to heal in the first place. Vitamin C and E for instance, are instrumental in muscle tear repair, as is zinc, which provides for DNA formation, cell division, and protein synthesis, all of which are necessary in healing muscle. You also require Vitamin A to assist in collagen formation via collagenase modulation which is directly linked to muscle repair, along with Omega 3 to naturally reduce inflammation and promote quicker recovery, and Vitamin B-6 / B-9 to help your body metabolize amino acids and protein. View more on the natural foods/supplements that may help repair your muscle tear, and thus reduce the risk of reoccurrence. A physiotherapy clinic with a nutritionist on staff can also help provide you with advice on matters of nutrition as they apply to injury repair and prevention.
Notice one common theme in our answer to why you keep tearing your calf muscle? In the end, the best way to put an end to chronic tearing, is to make physiotherapy a part of your health and wellness regime. If you reside in the Greater Vancouver area, take the best possible step towards stronger and more flexible calf muscles today – contact Absolute PhysioCare right away.