Calf problems are usually caused by injuries such as tripping or sport activities and should settle within 6 weeks of following the advice provided here. There are other less common causes of calf problems such as circulatory complaints.

Rest or Move

Should I be resting or moving?

For the first 24 to 48 hours

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

After 48 hours

  • You should try to use your leg more.
  • Do whatever you normally would and stay at or return to work. This is important and is the best way to get better.
  • Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement.
  • When going upstairs reduce the strain on your calf by leading with your good leg. If there is a handrail, use it.
  • When going downstairs reduce the strain on your calf by leading with your problem leg. If there is a handrail, use it.
  • Exercise really helps your calf and can relieve pain.

Painkillers

Should I take painkillers?

  • Painkillers can help you keep moving. However, it is important that if you are already taking medication for something else or have other health problems you check with the pharmacist at your local chemist before taking painkillers for your calf muscle problem.
  • You can use simple, over-the-counter painkillers (such as paracetamol) or anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen) to help your pain. You can take both these medicines together.
  • Always follow the instructions on the packet.
  • You can only take two 500mg paracetamol every four to six hours, and no more than eight 500mg paracetamol in 24 hours. You should not take any more than this amount.
  • You can only take three 400mg ibuprofen a day. You should not take ibuprofen if you have stomach problems such as ulcers, have had a previous allergic reaction to ibuprofen or an injury in the last 48 hours. Always take ibuprofen with or just after food. Don't take ibuprofen if you are pregnant.
  • If you have asthma, ibuprofen may make it worse, but if you have taken it before with no problems then you can safely take it again. If you are not sure, speak to your pharmacist.
  • Take them regularly, not just when you are sore, for the next three to four days only.
  • If you feel you still need pain relief after four days then speak to your pharmacist for advice.

Should I use ice or a heat pad?

  • If you have had an injury or a flare-up of an old problem in the last two days, wrap crushed ice in a damp towel and hold it for five to ten minutes against the part of your calf that hurts. You can do this every two to three hours. Make sure you use a damp towel between the ice and the skin to avoid ice burn.
  • Alternatively, you could try sports sprays and gel packs, which do a similar job.
  • After two days, you may find that heat is more relaxing. You could use a heat pad or a hot water bottle with an insulated cover on it. Make sure this is not too hot and not directly touching your skin. You should do this for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day.

Work

You will recover faster and everybody will benefit if you can stay at or get back to work as early as possible. Don’t worry if your calf muscle still hurts, as you may only have to do light work at first. Try to stay active and remember to keep moving. Speak to your manager about any concerns you may have.

Sports

You should take time before you take part in any sports after a calf problem. If you take part in sports too soon you could flare things up again. You should have no swelling and be able to move your knee and ankle properly. You should have full or close to full strength and be able to take your weight through your leg without limping. Remember to stretch and warm up fully before sports.

Other Problems

Can my calf problems 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 one week, you may need to seek further medical advice.

Doctor

Do I need to see my doctor?

  • Not normally. If you follow the right advice and take the right medication, your calf muscle problem should improve over the next six weeks.

If you experience a sudden onset of any of the following you either need to attend A&E or contact NHS111 as soon as possible.

  • Heat, swelling and tenderness in your calf, especially if you cannot recall an injury.
  • Pain you would describe as pins and needles, sharp, hot or burning pain usually in the back of the calf that does not improve after one week.
  • Unable to put any weight though your leg.
  • Unable to lift your heel off the floor.
  • Pain that gets worse and worse.
  • Pins and needles or muscle weakness in your leg.

If your condition progressively worsens or persists for longer than 6 weeks you need to seek further medical advice.

Facts and Figures

  • Calf muscle injuries are one of the most common sporting injuries.
  • Around 12% of all running injuries involve the calf muscle.