Calf Pain: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Written by: Maximilian George, OMS-II

Are recurrent pains in your calves keeping you from living an active, mobile lifestyle? Calf pain can be incredibly debilitating and uncomfortable and often stems from a variety of underlying causes. Fortunately, with the right preventive strategies and treatments, it is possible to reduce or alleviate the discomfort that you’re feeling. 

In this blog post, we will explore potential causes of calf pain, how it can be prevented, as well as treatment options available. Read on to find out more about managing your calf pain for improved well-being!

Contact OrthoNeuro for expert calf treatment in Columbus, Ohio. Our orthopedic surgeons are fully equipped to help you on your road to recovery.

Anatomy of the Calf

The calf collectively refers to the muscles on the back part of the lower leg: the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris. These muscles form a complex known as the triceps surae. 

A man needing treatment for calf pain in Columbus, Ohio.

The gastrocnemius is the large two-headed muscle seen just below the knee. The soleus is longer and lies underneath the gastrocnemius. The plantaris is a very small and thin muscle between these the gastrocnemius and soleus. 

These muscles begin at the knee and join as the Achilles tendon to attach on the back of the heel, working together to flex the knee and plantarflex the ankle. 

Causes of Calf Pain

Calf pain has numerous causes and will present differently based on the mechanism of injury. 

The most common cause is muscle injury, but may also be due to issues with blood flow or the nerves traveling through this area. Commonly affected patient groups include middle-aged males who do not regularly exercise, athletes and those with underlying medical conditions.

For pain originating in the muscle, the soleus or the gastrocnemius are most likely at fault. The plantaris plays a smaller role and will typically self-resolve if injured. 

Though right next to each other, each muscle has its own role. The shorter gastrocnemius is used for explosive movements or activities like sprinting or jumping, so pain from injuring this muscle is more likely to come on suddenly. 

Tennis leg, the tearing of the medial head of the gastrocnemius, is the most common calf injury. Injuries to the longer soleus muscle are more commonly seen in endurance athletes. This muscle is injured by repetitive motions over a long period of time and will be characterized by pain that increases gradually. 

Cramping, or a “charley horse,” may be due to dehydration. 

Inflamed tendons can also cause pain when using the calf muscle complex.

Risk Factors for Calf Pain

Groups with underlying medical conditions may be at risk of calf pain stemming from a vascular or nerve issue. 

For example, patients with diabetes, a history of smoking, or a history of blood clots in their legs are at higher risk for a variety of diseases that impede proper blood flow through the body. This inadequate blood flow, especially when combined with exercise, can lead to calf pain when the muscles do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients.

How to Prevent Calf Injuries

Calf injuries can be prevented in several ways, all of which revolve around following a healthy lifestyle. 

Regular exercise and stretching will help the muscles to be strong enough for physical activity. For athletes, recognizing the importance of not overtraining the muscles is also important. 

Proper nutrition, hydration, and lifestyle factors such as not smoking are essential for the body to continue delivering nutrients needed to maintain healthy tissue in the calf.

Calf Pain Treatment

Treatment for calf pain will vary based on the cause. Less serious injuries can be managed without surgery. This management might include stretching, anti-inflammatories, in addition to rest, ice, compression, and elevation. 

Physical therapy may also be an option, where muscles will be strengthened through a gradual program of returning to full activity. 

More serious injuries may require surgical correction. If the cause of the pain is due to an underlying health condition, then your doctor may recommend certain medications to help control those conditions. 

Book Your Appointment Today

You should seek medical help immediately if you notice visual changes to the calf, swelling, discoloration, extreme pain when touching, or if there is an audible pop while exercising. 

Contact our orthopedic surgeons at OrthoNeuro today. Our leg specialists are treating patients throughout Columbus, Ohio. Book your visit now!


Fields KB, Rigby MD. Muscular Calf Injuries in Runners. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2016 Sep-Oct;15(5):320-4. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000292. PMID: 27618240.

Patel SK, Surowiec SM. Intermittent Claudication. 2022 Jul 11. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 28613529.

Rohilla S, Jain N, Yadav R. Plantaris rupture: why is it important? BMJ Case Rep. 2013 Jan 22;2013:bcr2012007840. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2012-007840. PMID: 23345486; PMCID: PMC3604295.


Medically Reviewed by Nick Cheney, DO

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