Best 5 Exercises for a Calf Strain

Common injuries among athletes are calf strains. When the muscles in the back of the lower leg are overstretched, a calf strain can occur. They can occur at any age or level of athletic ability. However, these injuries are most prevalent in running activities involving high volume, speed, deceleration, and acceleration. They are frequently brought on by sudden movements, such as jumping or running, and can be quite painful. Therefore, calf strains are prevalent in sports such as football, rugby, tennis, and recreational running.

My last patient on Monday evening this week had run the London Marathon on Sunday. As it happens, we had 21 of our team based in medical stations across the London Marathon course. He was running perfectly fine, with no symptoms. At mile 15.5, he felt a pop on the inside of his calf. He said he was running straight, and had no indication as to why it happened. It just popped, and he knew he had done something to it. He pulled up, and hobbled to mile 16 where he got to the medical tent and saw a physio who advised him not to keep running. What had happened? He had a calf strain. The fibres of the calf split, causing a small tear, and this was due to too much load going through the calf.


The gastrocnemius and soleus are the two primary muscles comprising the calf complex. Important for running and jogging, they flex the leg at the knee and plantar flex the foot at the ankle, as in tiptoeing. The soleus primarily acts when the knee is flexed to 90 degrees, whereas the gastrocnemius primarily acts when the knee is fully extended. Due to their slight differences in action, the gastrocnemius is frequently injured during high-intensity explosive movements such as jumping, whereas the soleus is typically injured during steady-state activities such as jogging.

Manifestations of a Calf Strain

Depending on the extent of the injury, the symptoms of a calf strain may vary. Acute calf strain symptoms include an audible pop, followed by dull to severe pain and swelling for the next 24 hours. Along with walking and running, the ability to tippy-toe will diminish. Patients frequently complain of calf pain and tenderness, especially on the inner calf.

Treating a Calf Strain

If you suspect you have a calf strain, or you felt your calf pop or “go” on you, please call us at Surrey Physio on 0208 685 6930 and book in. We need to assess the calf and let you know the best course of treatment.

Physiotherapy for Calf Strains

Physiotherapy is an essential part of the recovery process for calf strains. A Surrey Physio physiotherapist can help you regain strength and mobility in the affected area, as well as teach you exercises to prevent future injuries. They will work with you to develop a customised strengthening plan based on your specific needs and goals. During your physiotherapy sessions, your therapist may use a variety of techniques to help you recover. In the early stages we probably won’t use massage, but we would use LASER and possibly ultrasound.

Why Choose Surrey Physio?

If you're dealing with a calf strain, Surrey Physio is an excellent choice for your physiotherapy needs. Our team of experienced physiotherapists has the knowledge and skills necessary to help you recover from your injury and get back to your normal activities. We use the latest techniques and equipment to ensure you get the best possible care.

At Surrey Physio, we see a lot of calf strains. It’s a super-common athletic injury. But we find that people respond very well to physio, LASER, and tend to bounce back very quickly. Almost everybody improves within 6 weeks.

Calf raises two legs

Stand upright and hold onto a wall/table for balance if required. Slowly raise up onto your toes, and control the movement back down. This exercise will strengthen the calf muscles and ankle joints. Repeat 5-10 reps once the pain has significantly reduced, and build it up to 25-30 reps when pain free.

Calf raises one leg on a step

By going to one leg, you progress by increasing the weight through the unilateral side. You don’t need to use the step; you can make it easier by doing it from the flat (e.g. standing on the floor). Stand on a step, hold onto a hand rail for balance if required. Slowly raise up onto your toes, and control the movement back down just below the level of the step. This exercise will strengthen the calf muscle and ankle joint, but at the bottom of the movement put a stretch through the calf as well. Repeat 25 times.

How to apply ice to your calf

Place an ice pack or pack of frozen peas on the back of your leg over your calf to reduce inflammation and pain. Make sure you wrap the ice in a thin towel so it's not too cold. Hold for 10 minutes on the painful area, and repeat three times per day.

How to stretch your gastrocnemius

Only perform this exercise once the calf has fully healed, and if your therapist has identified your calf to be short or tight. Stand facing a wall, with your feet together and your hands flat against the wall. Both your feet should be facing forwards and your back heels resting on the ground and your knees straight. You should feel a stretch to the leg at the back, in the calf muscles (known as the gastrocnemius). Hold for 30 seconds and repeat three times.

Spiky ball calf massage

Sit on the floor and place a spikey ball under your calf muscle at the back of your lower leg. Use your hands to support your body, and lift your foot from the floor. Roll the ball up and down the back of your leg to create a localised massage to the calf muscles. Use of 1-2 minutes. Only do this exercise 10 days after the injury occurred.

Calf strains can be painful and disruptive, but with the right treatment and care, you can recover quickly and safely. Physiotherapy is a vital part of the recovery process, and Surrey Physio is an excellent choice for your physiotherapy needs. If you're dealing with a calf strain, don't hesitate to seek medical attention and start your road to recovery today.

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If you are a patient who has suffered a calf strain or tear, or elite athlete looking to prevent calf tears, please call us to book an appointment with any of our team. Surrey Physio have an amazing team of therapists to help you recover from pain, but also to achieve top performance. Call us on 0208 685 6930 or click the link at the top to book online.)