Tennis leg is an injury characterized by the pop sound in the calf muscle followed by the intense burning pain while participating in tennis.
Tennis leg occurs when the medial head of the calf muscle called the gastrocnemius muscle gets torn. A tennis leg does not occur due to a tear in the Achilles tendon, which is a common mistake many people make while determining the cause of the injury and normally does not need surgery.
Tennis leg generally involves a tear in the muscle and tendon in the calf. The gastrocnemius muscle is susceptible to injury because it is the most superficial calf muscle at the back of the lower leg. Older athletes are also prone to this injury, and you do not need to get involved in tennis, squash or other racquet sports to experience a tennis leg injury.
The combination of high-performance footwear along with superior foot traction on the tennis court may result in sudden changes in movement and direction, this stressing the gastrocnemius muscle, causing it to stretch and tear if the force is too excessive.
Middle-aged athletes are most susceptible to tennis leg because they are normally going through a stage of muscle atrophy and degeneration.
Signs and symptoms
Athletes suffering from tennis leg usually complain about a burning sensation in the lower leg or a feeling of being short in the leg upon the onset of the injury. Bruising and swelling may occur over time as well.
The affected area may be tender to touch and the patient may not be able to walk using the injured foot. Tennis players may sit down for some rest to allow pain to subside, and if they walk they usually tend to walk on their toes to prevent the ankle to flexing upward so that that calf muscle is not stretched, to prevent pain.
Treatment initially includes the R.I.C.E. regime which involves rest, ice, compression and elevation. Apply a cold, damp elastic bandage around the affected calf area and allow some compression. Next, apply an ice pack or a bag filled with crushed ice on the affected region over a few layers of dressing. Elevate the foot above heart level and tilt the foot subtly downwards.
It is important that you avoid weight bearing activities that may aggravate pain and rest the foot with the use of crutches. It is recommended that you take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication to reduce pain, making sure you are not suffering from another condition such as diabetes.
Appropriate treatment methods will be determined by the health care provider depending on the degree of damage to the affected muscle. A first degree muscle strain can be treated with conservative treatment measures such as rest, usage of crutches and gradual return to weight bearing activities as directed by your physiotherapist. A second degree muscle strain occurs due to numerous micro tears in the affected muscle. It can be treated with immobilization of the calf muscle with the affected foot pointed slightly downward for about three to six weeks to promote healing. This will be followed by a rehabilitation program with suitable exercises to restore muscle strength and balance.
Third degree strain involves significant wear and tear in the gastrocnemius muscle, causing severe tennis leg. A third degree muscle strain may occur due to the rupture of the muscles at the region of separation of the two muscle ends. Surgical repair is normally required to rectify the damage. Make sure you talk to your doctor about the possible outcomes of getting surgery done for a severe case of tennis leg.
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