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What are the Most Common Causes of Calf Pain?

By Alex Paul
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Some of the most common causes of calf pain include muscle strains, soreness after exercising, and cramps. A more serious potential cause of pain is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), i.e., a blood clot in the calf, which needs to be treated immediately. Other potential causes of calf pain include compartment syndrome and a direct impact to the muscle.

The most common cause of calf pain is a muscle strain. This type of pain usually emerges at a specific time rather than building up gradually, and the patient will often be able to pinpoint the exact time the injury occurred. Aside from pain, symptoms of a muscle injury include swelling and bruising over the injured area. A calf strain is most likely to happen during sporting activity. General soreness in the calf muscle after sports is likely to be caused by increased levels of activity and will usually disappear after a few days.

Cramps, which consist of an involuntary tensing of the muscle, are another common cause of calf pain. Most people have irregular cramps, often after hard training sessions, but sometimes the problem can repeatedly occur. The cause of calf cramps has not been fully discovered, but it is thought to be a combination of tight muscles, low salt and carbohydrate levels, and dehydration.

DVT commonly occurs in the calf and can be a painful condition. It can potentially be deadly because the blood clot can work its way into a vital organ; as a result, it needs to be treated immediately. The symptoms of DVT in the calf include pain that isn’t caused by an injury, swelling, and a higher temperature. DVT can be confirmed by a medical scan.

Compartment syndrome, where the muscle becomes too big for its surrounding sheath, is another possible cause of calf pain. Lateral compartment syndrome, involving the outer calf muscles, and posterior compartment syndrome, can both cause pain in the calf. Treatment usually involves rest from activity and ice, although correction of biomechanical issues might also be important.

There are a number of other potential causes of calf pain. A direct blow to the calf, for example, can cause discomfort for a period of time after the impact. Very tight calf muscles might be painful even if no strain is present. An inflamed or ruptured Achilles tendon may result in pain towards the bottom of the calf, although this is usually felt in the heel.

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