Calf Muscle Tear: Symptoms, Causes + How To Recover Fast

Depending on the grade of the tear, you might be back running sooner than you thought

All our injury and recovery resources are rigorously vetted by our expert team and adhere to our Injury Guidelines.

Calf pain is a familiar companion for most runners, and a calf muscle tear is often to blame, especially for those engaged in long-distance endurance running.

Whether you’re running for pleasure or running competitively, a calf muscle tear can be a painful and debilitating experience.

Astonishingly, statistics estimate that the occurrence of calf pain among runners falls between a substantial 4.5% and 33%. What’s more, a history of previous calf injuries serves as a red flag for potential future calf issues.

Therefore, it’s paramount to adopt a well-structured rehabilitation program for effective recovery and to reduce the risk of recurrence.

In this article, we will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for calf muscle tears, as well as provide valuable insights on how to recover quickly and get back to your normal activities.

We’ll be covering:

  • What Is A Calf Muscle Tear?
  • Calf Muscle Tear Symptoms
  • Calf Muscle Tear Causes
  • Calf Muscle Tear Treatment And Prevention
  • Final Thoughts

Let’s get into it!

A runner holding their calf muscle.

What is a calf muscle tear?

A calf muscle tear, often referred to as a calf strain, occurs when there is damage to the muscle fibers in the calf muscles.

These tears can vary in severity and usually affect the calf complex, composed of the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris muscles. The primary physiological cause of calf muscle tears is excessive force or stretching applied to the calf muscles.

In order to gain more clarity about a calf muscle tear, it’s useful to know the anatomy of the area.

The gastrocnemius, the largest and most superficial of these muscles, features two heads originating from the femur. These merge to form a single muscle belly that attaches to the calcaneus bone via the Achilles tendon.

Beneath the gastrocnemius lies the soleus, with its origins in the tibia and fibula of the lower leg. This muscle plays a vital role in running by stabilizing the ankle and controlling the lower leg’s forward motion during the swing phase.

The plantaris muscle, smaller in comparison, runs parallel to the gastrocnemius and inserts into the calcaneus bone. While not as prominent, it contributes to ankle plantarflexion and knee flexion during the swing phase of running.

A person holding their calf muscle.

Calf Muscle Tear Symptoms

Calf muscle tears, commonly referred to as calf strains, exhibit a range of severity levels and are systematically categorized on a scale of Grade I to Grade III, with Grade III usually representing a complete tear of the muscle.

This grading system is a valuable tool for gauging the extent of the injury and charting the course of treatment.

Here are the symptoms that you can expect to feel for each level of strain:

Grade 1 Calf Strain:


A Grade 1 calf strain signifies a minor injury involving a limited number of stretched or torn muscle fibers. While it may result in some discomfort or mild pain, it typically doesn’t impede your ability to run or engage in other activities.


  • Sharp pain during or after physical activity
  • A sensation of tightness in the affected region
  • Capability to continue the activity with or without mild discomfort
  • Post-activity tightness and/or aching

Calf muscle tear recovery time:

Most individuals can anticipate returning to their running routine within 1 to 3 weeks.

A runner holding their calf.

Grade 2 Calf Strain:


A Grade 2 calf strain represents a moderate injury in which a more substantial number of muscle fibers are stretched or torn. This type of strain can induce increased pain, swelling, and tenderness and may limit your ability to run or partake in various activities.


  • Sharp pain during physical activity, specifically in the calf
  • Inability to continue the activity due to pain
  • Significant pain when walking or bearing weight on the affected leg after activity
  • Swelling in the affected muscle
  • Potential mild to moderate bruising in the affected area

Calf muscle tear recovery time:

Recovery for a Grade 2 strain typically takes 3 to 6 weeks before a return to running is feasible.

A person holding their calf.

Grade 3 Calf Strain:


A Grade 3 calf strain is the most severe category, indicating a complete calf muscle tear. This can cause intense pain, significant swelling, and pronounced bruising, and it is highly likely to substantially restrict your ability to run or partake in various activities.


  • Severe and immediate pain at the musculotendinous junction of the calf muscle
  • Inability to continue with the activity due to extreme pain
  • Considerable bruising and swelling, often manifesting within hours of the injury

Calf muscle tear recovery time:

The recovery period for a Grade 3 strain is highly individualized but can extend up to 6 months before a return to regular activities is possible.

A person with a physical therapist working on their calf.

Calf Muscle Tear Causes

There are a number of possible causes for a calf muscle tear.

Here are the most common:

  1. Weakness In the calf muscle – If the calf muscle is weak, it will fatigue faster during running, which can lead to an increased risk of strain.
  2. An overuse injury – This can occur when the calf muscle experiences more force than it is able to handle in a certain timeframe. Have you recently introduced speed work, suddenly increased weekly mileage, or ramped up the intensity of your training? `

calf muscle tear treatment & prevention

Remember, previous calf muscle injury is a large risk factor for future injuries. Therefore, it is essential that you actively engage in a structured treatment program. You won’t regret it.

Physical Therapy

Getting back to running after a calf muscle tear is a gradual process that requires patience and adherence to a well-structured rehabilitation plan.

Due to the varying nature of strain severity, I would recommend working with a physical therapist. They will be able to make specific recommendations based on your situation, whether it’s rest, medication, or rehabilitation exercises.

Recovery from a calf muscle tear typically involves several stages, each with specific goals and recommended exercises. As the muscle gets stronger, exercises will gradually increase the load experienced in the injured muscle.

The exercises that you are doing on week one should be easy by week six, etc. Everyone’s recovery journey is unique, and the timeline for each stage may vary.

A person's calf muscle.

Stage 1: Immediate Post-Injury Care

Straight after injuring your calf, your main focus is on healing and reducing inflammation.

  • Rest: Avoid activities that worsen the injury and minimize weight-bearing on the affected leg.
  • Ice: Applying ice can reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Compression: Wearing a compression bandage or calf sleeve can help control swelling and provide support.
  • Elevation: If possible, elevate your injured leg above heart level to reduce swelling.

Stage 2: Pain Management and Mobility

During this stage, rehab will focus on pain management and regaining your mobility:

  • Gentle range of motion (ROM) exercises: When ready, you can start gentle ankle and calf stretches to regain mobility; these should not elicit any major pain.
  • Reduce weight-bearing: Depending on the severity of the injury, you may need crutches or a walking boot to reduce weight-bearing on the injured leg.
A calf stretch.

Here is an exercise for this stage of recovery:

Calf Stretch:

  1. Begin by finding a sturdy, flat surface to stand on.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  3. Take a step back with one foot, keeping it straight, and bend the front knee slightly.
  4. Place your hands on a nearby support or wall for balance.
  5. Gently push your hips forward, feeling the stretch in your calf muscle. Ensure you maintain proper alignment, keeping your back heel on the ground.
  6. Always listen to your body to avoid overstretching. If you experience pain or discomfort, reduce the stretch and then try again with a smaller step.
  7. Complete this stretch 2-3 times for each leg, holding each stretch for 20-30 seconds.

Stage 3: Strengthening and Stability

As the pain decreases, rehab will look to start building strength and stability in your calf:

  • Strengthening Exercises: This will involve exercises like calf raises, resistance band work, and weighted toe raises to rebuild your calf muscle’s strength.
  • Balance and stability: One focus of this stage is to improve confidence by improving balance and stability training:
Calf raise.

Here is an exercise for this stage of recovery:

Calf Raise:

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward.
  2. Place your hands on a stable surface like a wall or chair for balance.
  3. Lift your heels as high as possible, keeping your toes on the ground.
  4. Hold for a count of one.
  5. Slowly lower your heels without touching the ground.
  6. Complete three sets of 10-20 reps.

If you want to make it harder, try:

  1. Single-Leg Calf Raise: Focus on one leg for increased intensity. Do 10-15 reps per leg in 3 sets.

Stage 4: Functional Rehabilitation

At this point, we’ll prepare you for more demanding activities:

  • Progressive Exercises: We’ll introduce advanced calf and leg strengthening exercises to get you ready for more challenging activities.
  • Sport-Specific Drills: If you’re an athlete, we’ll gradually reintroduce sport-specific drills that mimic the movements in your chosen sport.
A person jumping rope.

Here is an exercise for this stage of recovery:

Jumping Rope:

Jumping rope is an excellent plyometric exercise that not only bolsters your calf muscles but also enhances cardiovascular fitness.

How to Perform:

  1. Grab a jump rope to begin.
  2. Stand with your feet together, with a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Start jumping over the rope, landing softly on the balls of your feet.
  4. Keep your core engaged and maintain a steady rhythm.
  5. Jump for 1-2 minutes, and gradually extend your duration as it gets easier.
Calf raise.

Stage 5: Return to Activity

As your body continues to get stronger, you can begin to re-introduce running to your routine. The goal here is to safely reintroduce you to your regular activities, especially running.

After several days of pain-free walking, incorporate short intervals of running. This might involve 15-30 seconds of easy jogging interspersed with walking.

Start with short, low-intensity runs and gradually increase duration and intensity.

Pay close attention to your body’s response. If you experience any pain or discomfort during or after running, revert to walking for a few days.

Final Thoughts

Remember, everyone’s recovery journey is unique, and the timeline for each stage may vary.

Active participation and utilization of strengthening exercises are a crucial part of the rehabilitation process. Give yourself the best chance possible of running pain-free for longer!

To try and avoid calf muscle tears in the first place, increase intensity and volume gradually in your training plan. For more information on the 10% rule, click here.

A runner on a track.
Photo of author
Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.