How to Tell if a Calf Muscle is Ruptured

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Athletes or outdoors enthusiasts may injure their legs at some point during their activities. These injuries are often minor and clear up in a couple of days, but there are injuries that can take longer to heal. A more serious injury is a calf rupture.


EditInitially Evaluating a Calf Injury

  1. Understand that a calf rupture is a very common athletic injury.[1] It occurs most frequently in people who are intermittent high-intensity athletes; some doctors refer to these people as the “weekend warriors.” This is because suddenly exposing your body to intense exercise, particularly exercise that works your calf muscles, can cause them to tear if you either injure yourself or significantly overwork the muscle.
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    • One of the most common sports that can result in a calf muscle rupture is tennis, due to the fast stops and starts and the way in which you use your legs.[2] However, a variety of other athletic endeavors can lead to a ruptured calf muscle as well.
  2. Recognize symptoms of a possible ruptured calf muscle. This can help you to determine whether you may have this injury. Common symptoms include:[3]
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    • An audible “pop” at the time of the injury.
    • Pain in the calf, most often radiating down toward the ankle and foot.
    • Pain in the calf that often worsens with motion of the ankle.
    • Sudden reduced mobility, up to and including an inability to pivot the foot.
  3. Look for common physical signs of a ruptured calf muscle. There are some common physical findings that can help you to tell whether or not you may have ruptured your muscle. These include:[4]
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    • Swelling of the leg around the area of the injured calf muscle; the swelling often extends all the way down to the foot.
    • Discolouration due to bruising in the swollen area over the calf.
    • Pain upon touching the injured calf area.
    • Difficulty or inability to walk on the foot and stand on tiptoes.

EditDiagnosing a Calf Muscle Rupture

  1. See your doctor. The majority of calf muscle ruptures can be identified just telling your doctor what happened and allowing him to quickly examining your leg. Additional tests are not usually necessary, especially since this injury is common and doctors are skilled at recognizing it.[5]
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  2. Have further tests done to exclude other diagnoses. Your doctor may suggest blood tests, X-rays, or other imaging tests to ensure that nothing more serious is going on. Sometimes, other conditions such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) have the same symptoms as a ruptured calf muscle.[6]
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  3. Ask your doctor how severe your rupture is.[7] If you have been diagnosed with a rupture of your calf muscle, there are three “grades” (or severities) of injury. Your doctor will let you know how bad yours is.
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    • A Grade One injury usually involves 10% or less of your muscle. Your muscle will likely be tight and achy for two to five days after the injury. It should start to feel better after that, and you can return to sports when there is no more pain.
    • A Grade Two injury usually involves 10 – 90% of the muscle’s fibres. You will probably feel considerable pain while walking, and will have felt a sharp pain in the back of your lower leg when the injury occurred. With this degree of injury, you will see swelling and bruising of the calf. Pain will also become worse when the foot is pointed away from your body. Residual tightness and soreness after the swelling goes down can last for a week or more.
    • A Grade Three injury is defined as a “full rupture.” You will notice severe swelling and bruising in the calf. You may see a bulge toward the top of your calf or right below your knee in cases of a full tear. At the time of the injury, you will have experienced extreme sudden pain in the lower leg. You will likely not be able to contract the muscle in your calf, or use your calf or foot in any way.
  4. Follow your doctor’s suggestions for treatment and optimal healing.[8] In the initial stages of healing (the first two to three days), follow the “RICE” protocol. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Icing your calf muscle is important to diminish swelling, as well as elevating your leg whenever possible (which also helps to diminish swelling). If you place the ice pack inside a tensor bandage or other wrap it can also help with compression.[9] However, be careful not to cut off the circulation in your leg by wrapping it too tightly. When wrapping, be sure that it is gentle and not causing you additional pain.
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    • As far as rest is concerned, you will want to be gentle on your leg but also continue to use it. In other words, sports or other strenuous activities are not recommended, but gentle walking (if tolerated) can help your calf to heal better. If you cannot yet walk on it, even gentle ankle exercises can promote better healing. Speak to your doctor for specific suggestions.[10]
    • Ice for 15 – 20 minutes at a time. Use a cold pack or a bag of ice cubes, and gently wrap it in a cloth if it is too cold on your skin initially.
    • If you can elevate your leg on an ottoman or on another chair that is at the same height as the one you are sitting on that helps to reduce swelling. Elevating your leg is not a “make or break” essential of healing; however, if you are sitting down anyway, finding a chair or ottoman to rest your injured leg on can help diminish swelling and is a worthwhile thing to do.
  5. Take pain medications as needed. Talk to your doctor about what pain medications are safe for you — often something like Advil (Ibuprofen), or Tylenol (Acetaminophen), can help to alleviate pain while your calf muscle is healing.[11] The benefit of something like Advil, as opposed to Tylenol, is that it has anti-inflammatory benefits as well as combatting pain.
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  6. Use a brace if recommended by your doctor. Depending upon the severity of your injury, your doctor may recommend bracing your leg and ankle in a way that allows for the best healing.[12] Do not try doing this on your own; only do it under the guidance of an experienced physician or physiotherapist.
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    • Always follow up with your doctor and/or physiotherapist regarding a plan for returning to activities and sports.[13] It is important to wait until your injury has fully healed before being too vigorous.


  • A gentle squeeze of the calf (soleus) will tell if it is the achilles tendon that has been ruptured along with structures at the bottom of the calf. If the foot will not move with the calf squeeze, the tendon is ruptured and the entire lower leg should be immobilized prior to transport to ensure the best recovery.


  • See a doctor immediately if you experience severe lower leg pain. Although you may be sure it is a calf strain, life-threatening conditions such as deep-vein thrombosis (blood clot) can also cause this type of pain.[14]

EditRelated wikiHows

  • Treat a Torn Calf Muscle
  • Diagnose a Torn Calf Muscle
  • Identify Achilles Tendinitis
  • Avoid Heel Pain and Plantar Fasciitis

EditSources and Citations

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