Your News: Tennis leg – Is there such a thing?

The calf muscles
The calf muscles
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What is it?

What is it?

Most people have heard about Tennis elbow but there is a condition called Tennis leg. For those of you that are thinking about doing a little more exercise now that the summer is approaching, then this article could be of interest to you. Tennis leg is a condition that affects the calf part of your leg. Like the elbow version, it does not have to have anything to do with tennis. It tends to occur in sports with a repetitive explosive element such sprinting, jumping and squash or in activities involving pushing against resistance such as weight lifting or rugby.

There are in fact two main muscles in this area. The first one is the Gastrocnemius. This is the biggest muscle you can see at the back of your lower leg and often appears to have two bulges or ‘heads’, one on the inner part and one the outer part. Deeper to this muscle is the Soleus muscle. Together these muscles are attached to the heel bone via the Achilles tendon (a piece of tissue that connects muscles to the bone they move) and they push the foot downwards and raise the heel. The first muscle deals mainly with locomotion activities such as walking and the latter is more involved with adjusting your posture depending on the ground beneath you.

True tennis leg is a strain of the gastrocnemius muscle itself (rather than a tear). It normally occurs where the muscle attaches itself to the Achilles tendon and tends to affect the inner muscle head or bulge more often. It typically starts following a sudden propulsive action such as performing a lunge or jumping action. Women are more prone to it and those of us over 30.

What does it feel like?

Patients often report feeling something ‘go’ in the back of the leg. There is often rapid pain and spasm and putting the heel down is often impossible.

Gradually over 48 hours or so, swelling and bruising can develop usually below the injury site due to the effect of gravity dragging any fluid downwards.

The muscle will feel very tender to touch and any stretching, so pointing of the toes upwards especially when the knee is straight is very painful.

How do we fix it?

Stage 1 –Depending on the severity, a certain amount of immobilisation is needed using splints or sports tape to begin with to help prevent further tissue damage. Compression from elastic bandages (tubigrip) can help to limit the formation of swelling. Cold packs and elevation also help reduce any swelling and the temperature fluctuations created by the cold pack stimulate blood flow essential for healing. If you are okay taking anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen (Always check with your Doctor or pharmacist first) these too can help in the early stages.

Stage 2 – Once the area is capable of being prodded a little, specific massage and kneading techniques along with some gentle stretching using a towel or band to increase flexibility can be started. This can then be progressed on to regaining strength by pressing your foot against some resistance 
by using a strap around the toes or performing gentle 
heel raises.

Stage 3 – After all of this, the next important thing is to ensure that your walk pattern is correct. With injuries like this, when the calf is still sore you will tend to shorten your stride length and turn your leg outwards more to avoid using your toes to push off with preferring your instep and heel to walk with. Making sure that you re-adopt a normal ‘heel to toe’ rhythm is very important to avoid other compensatory aches and pains.

Stage 4 – When the pain has gone strengthening exercises are moved more towards power movements designed to improve the efficiency of the muscle. These can range from gentle jogging and jumping to skipping and ‘side hops’ amongst others with the emphasis placed on the specifics of jumping and landing correctly. The toes should be the first and last part of the foot to contact the ground during these activities with the knee and hips following appropriately to minimise the shock effect.

When will I be fit again?

Calf strains can take between 3 to 12 weeks to heal typically depending on the severity and what sort of care you give to it. Tears are different. Please note that the cause of your pain could originate from somewhere else. It is always important to make sure that you get a correct diagnosis from a qualified health practitioner such as a GP, Osteopath or Physiotherapist and get the right treatment and advice for your particular complaint.