The calf complex is made up of three muscles that are located on the posterior part of the lower leg. The three muscles are gastrocnemius, plantaris and soleus. These muscles meet at the Achilles tendon, which attaches directly to the heel.
What do the calves do?
The gastrocnemius with the soleus, is the main plantar flexor of the ankle joint. The muscle is also a powerful knee flexor. As a result of this the calf complex has a very important role to play in movement and locomotion. The plantaris muscle of the calf complex does not though exert significant effect on plantar flexion or knee flexion. It is considered to be more involved in proprioception due to the number of movement receptors it has in it.
How do they get injured?
Typically, calves are injured with movement, namely running, sprinting, changing direction quickly. In addition to this increased running load or exercising in fatiguing conditions can also be causative of calf injuries.
Grades of injury
It is important to note that calf muscles (and other skeletal muscles) can be injured to varying degrees. Consequently, a grading system is often used to diagnose the severity of the injury.
Grade 1 – muscle fibres are stretched and strained but remain intact
Grade 2 – between 25% and 90% of calf muscle fibres have been torn
Grade 3 – over 90% of muscle fibres have been torn
Management of calf injuries.
The management of calf injuries vary depending on the grade of injury. Increasing time to recover correlates with higher grades of injury. Initially managing pain, swelling and range of movement loss are the principal goals. As these goals are achieved strength and conditioning exercises are introduced before targeting work/function/sport specific goals.
Glossary of terms
Plantar flexion = is the movement where the top of your foot points away from your leg
Proprioception = perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body.
Muscle spindle = small sensory organs that feedback to the central nervous system about stretch and speed of stretch of muscles