Tears in the calf muscle

WABC-TV—December 2, 2009

There is a muscle tear that is so painful, some people have described it like being shot. And it happens more as people age.

So how does it happen? And how can you prevent it? Calf muscle tears, when they're minor, are called calf strains. When they're bigger, calf sprains. But both mean the tearing of part of the calf muscle. It's the result of muscles and tendons losing elasticity as we age, and it's the most common cause of calf pain in athletes.

Yankee slugger Johnny Damon rounded third for home in the last game of the World Series and pulled up lame with a tear in his right calf muscle. Banker Robin Baskin recently suffered the same injury on the tennis court.

"I accelerated to chase down a ball, and I tore my calf muscle," she said. "I heard the pop, and I had heard stories about hearing that pop."

"It usually doesn't happen because you don't stretch," Dr. Brian Halpern, of Hospital for Special Surgery, said. "It's usually in middle of match, with fatigue, and the muscle cannot compensate for the load you put on it."

Accelerating or changing directions can tear the muscle, with a pop.

"I've had a couple of police officers tell me, on the beat, that have taken out their guns because they thought they were shot in the back of the calf," Dr. Halpern said. "That's how uncomfortable it is."

The pain is right in the middle of the back of the calf. It's hard to point your toes after it happens. Just about any athlete, except cyclists, can have a tear.

Torn calf muscles are an injury of middle-aged athletes, people 35 to 55, especially weekend warriors. Fortunately, the treatment is physical therapy, not surgery.

After resting until pain subsides, strengthening exercises and some stretching of the calf will generally restore the muscle to full function.

"It happened eight weeks ago," Baskin said. "I feel pretty good now."

"If you have a small tear, perhaps it'll be better in 10 to 14 days," Dr. Halpern said. "If you have a bad tear, as Robin did, and it can take almost eight weeks."

The more dehydrated you are, the greater the risk. Cyclists' muscles don't go through the same stresses as the calf muscles of other athletes.

View the full story at 7online.com.


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