Calf pain is a very common symptom at any age, and may arise due to different factors. However, most of the time it is caused by intense physical activity, being very common during a race, because it is the muscle most used in this type of exercise.
However, pain in the leg calf can also indicate more serious situations, which should be evaluated by a doctor, such as baker's cyst, varicose veins, thrombosis or rupture of the Achilles tendon.
Main causes for calf pain
The most common causes for calf pain are:
1. Poor blood circulation
Poor circulation mainly affects sedentary and older people who do not engage in physical activity. But it can also affect pregnant women, especially at the end of pregnancy, as well as people who have had surgery recently and are still resting in bed. A sore calf in such cases is not a major cause for concern but can leave your feet cold and be uncomfortable to walk on.
What to do: Stretching can help lessen the pain and discomfort of poor circulation, but it is important to exercise regularly to improve circulation and prevent the formation of varicose veins, for example. Other good tips include wearing elastic stockings, not sitting too long or standing and decreasing the amount of salt in your food to avoid fluid retention.
2. Deep vein thrombosis
Thrombosis is a vascular disorder most common in the elderly. You should suspect thrombosis when there is pain in the leg and it becomes swollen and hard. It occurs when a thrombus looses from a vein and reaches important organs like heart or lungs blocking the circulation in these places, being very serious.
What to do: If you suspect that your leg is having a thrombus, you should go to the doctor as soon as possible for it to evaluate and indicate the use of blood thinning medicines such as aspirin, a doctor may also have surgery to place a stent ensure blood flow.
3. Varicose veins
When the person has many varicose veins, even if they are small, or only 1 or 2 large and long varicose veins, he may frequently have pain in the calf. In this case the veins become more swollen and there is a feeling of heavy and tired legs.
What to do: The treatment to cure varicose veins can be done with elastic stockings, use of varicose veins and practice physical activity because the blood is pumped harder and the heart's capacity improves. Other options include laser therapy, sclerotherapy and surgery for varicose veins.
4. Baker cyst's
The baker's cyst usually appears behind the knee, being a sore 'ball', which can also cause leg calf pain and tiredness.
What to do: Baker's cyst is not serious but causes great discomfort, so it is recommended you wear compression stockings, put on an ice pack, and do physiotherapy.
5. Cellulitis infection
Leg Infections, scientifically called infectious cellulitis, causes severe pain in the calf, with intense redness. This is because bacteria enters and penetrates the deeper layers of the skin.
What to do: You should go to the doctor as soon as possible to prevent bacteria from reaching the bloodstream spreading throughout the body. The treatment is done with antibiotics and it may be necessary to stay in the hospital. See how to identify and treat cellulitis infection.
6. Achilles tendon rupture
In case of direct trauma to the leg or heel or during a very intense physical activity, there may be a rupture of the Achilles tendon. The classic symptoms are pain in the calf with intense difficulty walking, pain when pressing the Achilles tendon and it is common for the person to say that he heard a crack or something hit his leg.
What to do: You should go to the doctor because the treatment is done by plastering the foot and in some cases it may be necessary to have surgery.
7. Calf pain in pregnancy
Calf pain in pregnancy is a normal symptom that happens due to the accumulation of blood in the legs caused by hormonal changes. Calf pain in pregnancy arises mainly at night time and during the day cramps may arise which are related to lack of potassium.
What to do: The pregnant woman should do stretching of the cramp-affected muscle and eat bananas or other potassium-rich foods, wear elastic stockings during the day, and raise her feet at night to improve blood circulation and reduce pain.
8. Calf pain during the run
During the practice of exercises like running, if you feel pain, it is most likely caused by a muscle disorder. So, the most common causes of calf pain during a run are:
- Intense physical exercise, mainly in climbs and in this case the two legs are affected at the same time;
- Stretching, contracture or muscle strain;
- Cramp, which suddenly appears on one leg and can also cause pain in the foot;
- Stones syndrome, which causes severe and sudden pain, as if someone threw a stone to your leg;
- Lack of minerals, which can happen during long exercises and poor hydration.
When feeling a severe pain in the calf during a race it is recommended you stop running and stretch the muscle, sitting on the ground with your legs well stretched, pointing your toes towards your nose. But if the pain is bearable and you feel that it is more of a nuisance affecting both legs at the same time, it is most likely to be fatigue due to lack of physical conditioning, and with persistence in training, this pain tends to disappear.
Warning signs to go to the doctor
It is recommended you go to the doctor or emergency room if you have the following signs and symptoms:
- Intense pain in the calf that arises suddenly;
- Pain, swelling and stiffness in only one leg;
- Redness and feeling of swelling or burning in one leg.
It is also important to seek medical evaluation if you have severe muscle pain that does not go away within 3 days.
Ways to fight calf pain
Calf pain tends to decrease after exertion and can be treated with physical therapy, massage or rest in milder situations, or surgery in the most severe situations.
To relieve calf pain, some simple strategies that can help are:
- Put an ice pack on the calf;
- Massage the muscle;
- Perform stretching exercises on the muscle;
- Drink lots of water and eat foods rich in sodium and potassium;
In the treatment of calf pain you can also use anti-inflammatory or muscle relaxants, such as Paracetamol, Voltaren or Calminex or natural remedies.