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The Best Calf Pain Treatments for Tight Muscles

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT October 30, 2020 0 Comments

Calf muscle massage

Calf pain is a common medical condition that can be caused by something as simple as a muscle strain or serious as a blood clot. The calf pain treatment you choose will depend on the underlying cause. If you have calf pain caused by a muscle injury or from overuse then simple self-care will suffice. However, if your injury is more severe then you’ll need professional intervention. Read on to learn the best ways to alleviate your calf pain.

Calf Pain Treatments

If you have calf pain caused by a mild injury or calf strain then self-care treatments are a great place to start. These treatments can be done in the comfort of your own home, on your own time. Check them out below.

RICE for Soleus Muscles

A calf muscle injury that has been caused by exercise should start its recovery with the RICE method. This acronym has the gold standard for mild muscle injuries for a long time. Here are all the details:  

  • Rest

    With muscle injuries, one of the best ways to treat it is with rest. It’s so important to give your body time to heal without stressing the muscles with exercise and activity. We know this can be hard for some people who just can’t stop like athletes and busybodies--but you do need to rest.

  • Ice

    Ice is a simple but effective treatment for muscle injuries. The cold numbs the pain and helps to minimize swelling in the area by constricting the blood vessels. Use an ice pack or submerge your calf into a cold bath. Keep the ice on for 20-minute intervals for the first couple of days for the best response. Never sleep with ice, it can cause serious skin damage. 

Alternating Hot & Cold Therapy

  • Compression

    The third letter in RICE stands for compression. Grab an elastic bandage or brace to wrap around your lower leg. Compression will help reduce swelling and support the muscle. Keep the compression bandage tight enough to compress your calf but lose enough that you aren’t causing pain or seriously limiting blood flow. 

  • Elevation

    While you are resting that calf injury, grab a pillow or two and elevate your lower leg. Elevation is a simple way to help reduce swelling which will in turn reduce calf pain. Your goal should be to raise your lower leg higher than the level of your heart.

    Calf Stretches and Exercises

    Soreness in one or both of the calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus, can be treated with stretching and exercise. As long as there is no significant pain, swelling, or injury to the area, start with a calf muscle stretching program that works to maintain your range of motion and flexibility. Calf exercises strengthen the muscles to prevent reinjury and support your joints.

    Calf Stretches

    Calf Exercises

      Foam Rolling Tight Calves

      A foam roller is a self-massage tool that presses deep into the muscles to release tension and alleviate soreness. With calf pain, foam rolling can release any muscle knots or trigger points that could be causing your issues. Foam rolling should be avoided during the acute injury phase, if there is skin breakdown, or if you have blood clots.

      How to Foam Roll Tight Calves

        Over-the-Counter Medication

        Another easy at-home treatment option for mild calf injuries is over-the-counter medications. You have a couple of options when treating muscle strains. The first is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID), which helps reduce swelling and pain.

        Another common option is using pain creams, which will not heal your injury but numb pain and ease soreness.

        Always check in with your doctor before you start a new medication, people with certain medical conditions need to be cautious to avoid any unintended side effects.

          Lifestyle Changes

          If you’ve suffered a muscle injury that is causing your calf pain there are many different lifestyle changes you can adapt to avoid reinjury. Here is a list of other lifestyle changes for you to consider making:

          • Stay well hydrated to avoid muscle cramps
          • Avoid over-exercising
          • Give your body proper warm up and cool down with exercise
          • Limit caffeine and alcohol
          • Stretch regularly
          • Keep a healthy weight
          • Stop smoking

            Physical Therapy for Calf Muscle Strain

            When a calf muscle strain is severe you need professional treatment from a physical therapist or your doctor. If your calf pain is making it too painful to walk, it lasts more than a few days, or is causing redness, swelling, or deformity of your lower leg then it’s time to see your doctor. Here are a few serious conditions that might seem like a calf muscle strain but are really much more serious.

            • Deep vein thrombosis (also known as DVT, which can lead to a pulmonary embolism)
            • Compartment syndrome
            • Peripheral artery disease
            • Nerve damage 

            Physical Therapy

            Physical therapists can perform a physical examination to evaluate your leg pain and determine a treatment plan. They will guide you with a series of stretches and exercises in their office to improve your range of motion and strengthen your leg muscles. Many times you’ll be sent home with handouts to show you how to continue therapy at home.

            Reducing Calf Pain for Runners

            Runners know that calf pain can put a serious damper on their training. Treating the pain will be dependent upon the cause. If you are suffering from cramping or a muscle strain, which are two of the most common causes of calf pain there are a few simple techniques you can try. Incorporate these prevention ideas into your routine to keep the pain away.

            • Allow yourself to have rest days
            • Massage your muscles
            • Stay well hydrated
            • Use compression socks
            • Stretch regularly
            • Use good running posture

            Calf Pain When Running or Walking

            Nighttime Calf Pain Relief

            Calf pain at night can interfere with your sleep and make for a miserable next day. Night treatment is aimed at reducing pain and identifying the cause to eliminate it. You’ll want to try things like elevating your legs with a pillow, stretching, or over-the-counter medications. There won’t be a one size fits all approach to treating nighttime calf pain.

            Take a look at this in depth resource to help you learn more about calf pain at night.

            Caring for Tight Calf Muscles

            Calf pain treatment begins with identifying the source of the pain and treating the underlying cause. If the pain is from a mild muscle injury then starting treatment at home can help ease discomfort and swelling. Sometimes the injury is too severe for home treatment, that’s when it’s time to call your doctor. As always, if you have a new injury talk to your healthcare professional to determine the best treatment plan for your situation.




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            Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
            Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

            JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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