A calf muscle strain is the tearing of the muscle fibers at the back of the lower leg, according to Laurie LaRusso for NYU Langone Medical Center. The tear may be partial or complete. Muscle strains are graded according to their severity. Grade 1 is the mildest, and grade 3 is the most severe.
Symptoms of a muscle strain include swelling, bruising and redness at the site of injury, explains WebMD. Pain may be present while a person is resting and when the muscle is being used. There may also be weakness of the muscle and associated tendons. If the injury is severe, there may be a complete inability to use the muscle.
The RICE protocol is the primary treatment for a calf muscle strain, notes Elizabeth Quinn for About.com. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Staying off the injured leg and avoiding activities that cause pain give the muscle time to heal. Using crutches can help protect the muscle. Icing the injured calf reduces swelling and numbs pain. Wrapping an ice pack in a cloth before applying it to the injury for 15 to 20 minutes at a time helps prevent skin damage. Compressing the calf with an elastic wrap keeps swelling down and supports the muscle. Elevating the leg above the heart also helps reduce swelling and decrease pain.
Risk factors for calf strains include poor conditioning, tight calf muscles and previous injuries to the area, states LaRusso. Muscle fatigue and participation in sports requiring quick bursts of speed are additional risk factors.