• Lionel Pannunzio PT / SCS

Calf Strains In Soccer Players - Part II - Best Strengthening Exercises


Introduction


We continue this week with the 2nd part on Calf Strains. In this blog post you will learn how long it usually takes to heal and what exercises you can do to assure a full recovery



Mechanism of Injury






Calf muscle strains occur during High Speed Movements.

In Soccer, more specifically, strains occur when pushing off suddenly during a sprint or jump.

Some examples:

  • A sudden stop while running backwards and quick change of direction accelerating forward

  • A quick start from a stagnant in a position

  • A jump going for a header or landing from a header



Calf Strains: How long Does it take to Heal ?



Time of Healing for Calf Strains

Depending on the severity of the injury, the healing time could be from 1-2 weeks to 1-2 months at times. As usual with these muscular injuries, healing time does not mean rest.

For the contrary, pushing the muscle to the limit of tolerance ( guided by mild pain or discomfort ) is the best path to create a strong and flexible scar tissue strong enough to tolerate the high demands of soccer.

The calf muscles create a lot of power to sprint and jump. Before return to play after a calf strain you must be sure that you have restored not only the range of motion of the ankle and knee, the strength of the Gastrocnemious and soleous but also you have training the injury to tolerate high speed running and jumping on the injured leg otherwise you are setting yourself up for a re-injury


What can I do to help the healing process ?


Acute Phase (1st week aprox.)




The goals of this phase is to control pain and inflammation and to start moving the injured fibers as tolerated:

  • Reduce Pain: Including ice for 1st 1-2 days , also ultrasound, electricity, taping, heel lifts, and hands-on therapy

  • Improve Motion: Gentle Range of motion exercises as tolerated: I like Gastrocnemius activation with ankle pumps (video 1), first with the knee in flexion to relax the calf muscle and allow more ankle excursion and then with knee straight to challenge more the injured fibers inside the muscle.

  • Improve Strength. Band resisted Calf exercises (video 2). As soon as tolerated we start with resistance training using bands


Strengthening Phase





The goals of this phase is to start loading the muscle and restore the strength of these powerful muscles progressively

My two favorite exercises are:


Weight Bearing Isometrics Bilateral



  • Setup. Begin in a standing upright position with your hands resting in front of you on a wall.

  • Movement. Slowly raise your heels off the ground and hold that position.




Weight Bearing Isometrics Single Leg




  • Setup. Begin in a standing upright position with your hands resting in front of you on a wall.

  • Movement. Bend one knee up to 90 degrees, then raise your other heel off the ground and hold that position.


Calf Raises on Step


The goal of this exercises is to continue loading the muscle and to challenge the muscle in the whole length of its fibers.

Adding a step helps to achieve these goals. It is very important you go from one extreme of the movement to the other. Challenge yourself to get to the end of both movements. In this way the scar tissue forming inside the muscle to repair the injury, will align in the line of stress / force and will get stronger in the whole range.

In the video I show them using a weighted vest but you should start with your own body weight and progress to a vest or backpack once you can knock down 10-12 good quality repetitions.




  • Setup. Begin standing at the edge of a step with your heels hanging off the edge. You may hold onto a stable object for support.

  • Movement. Raise up onto the balls of your feet, then slowly lower your heels down off the edge of the step and repeat.

  • Tip. Make sure to maintain your balance during the exercise. Keep your movements slow and controlled. Use the following pace: 3️ seconds to get to the top position, hold for 2️ seconds, 3 seconds to return to starting position




Conclusion


  • Calf muscles are very common in Soccer players.

  • Healing time depends on the severity on the injury but usually 3 to 6 weeks is a good estimate

  • Resting for 3-6 and returning to play will not help . You need to restore the size, strength and power of the calf musculature. Use the videos above as guidance for training

  • Be sure you work on Gastrocnemius strengthening

  • A good return-to-play training with field work is mandatory if you want to avoid another injury




Do you want more information on muscle injuries ?


Click the link below to get access to our PDF E-Book where you'll find valuable information about Muscle Injuries in general and Calf Injuries in Particular


Muscle Injuries in Soccer Players





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