Calf pain when bending knee

Calf pain is common, particularly if you’ve injured your leg. 

But what if you don’t know the cause of the pain? Why is pain there? And what should you do about it?

Discover reasons and remedies for calf pain here in this post. Additionally, you’ll find out how to help yourself if you experience calf pain when bending your knee.

Calf muscle pain – determining the cause

The first step in diagnosing the cause of unknown calf pain is establishing what pain or sensation you’re feeling. 

  • Is it a sudden calf pain?
  • Does it only happen upon moving your leg?
  • Is there associated knee pain with it?
  • Have you had any recent calf injuries?
  • Do you have an underlying condition?

These are possible questions your medical doctor may ask if you see them regarding your calf pain.

Keep a log of the calf pain when bending the knee. Record what activity you were doing and what brought the pain on.

Keeping a log helps diagnose the cause of calf pain and organize an appropriate treatment plan.

Common Problem (s)

Muscle injuries

There are, in fact, two larger muscles that make up the calf muscle as we know it. These are the Soleus and the Gastrocnemius muscles, which merge at the level of the heel. 

So when we talk about tight calf muscles or calf muscle strain, we refer to either of these two muscles – depending on the site of the patient’s pain.

Calf strain is a typical cause of calf pain. It’s another way of saying you have a ‘pulled muscle’. 

Muscle strain usually happens due to overusing and abusing the calf muscles through strenuous exercise. 

You would experience pain and perhaps some leg weakness or tingling.

Any strenuous exercise where the muscles are overworked can cause muscle strain. 

Physical therapists advocate muscle stretching before exercising the muscles, which reduces the likelihood of muscle strain significantly.

Calf tear is another form of muscle injury.

This is a physical injury to the leg muscle/s causing sudden severe pain when it happens. 

Muscle fibers in the leg separate during a tear, causing sharp pain in the area affected. 

This type of injury typically takes weeks to months to heal, and proper rest is imperative to successful healing.

Calf muscle cramps also cause calf pain. 

This type of pain is irregular (not always there), and happens when the blood vessels in the lower leg become restricted. 

Calf cramps are common in pregnancy, diabetes, certain thyroid conditions, dehydration, and associated sports injuries.


Deep vein thrombosis

One of the more serious conditions in the calf is deep vein thrombosis (DVT) when a blood clot forms in the leg’s deep veins. 

Sluggish blood flow causes a DVT, due to venous blood not returning to the lungs quickly enough. It slows down so much that it clumps together to form a blockage in the vein.

A DVT is far more likely to happen in immobile patients – lying in hospital beds or sitting in one position for a long time. 

It’s a reason why compression stockings are advised on a long flight – to keep venous blood flowing through the veins as efficiently as possible.

A DVT needs urgent medical treatment because of the risk of a more serious problem – a pulmonary embolism.

A pulmonary embolus is where the clot in the leg vein breaks off and travels toward the lungs. 

It can be fatal if not diagnosed early. Therefore, never delay if you think you may be at risk of a DVT – seek urgent medical treatment.

Acute injury

Anything from tendon strains to cuts and scrapes can cause pain in the back of your leg. 

An acute injury describes sudden pain due to an accident or incident. 

Common causes include a knock to the calf, a blow, a puncture wound, or a fall.

The cause of calf pain, in this case, is quickly identified, and appropriate treatment can be given when a qualified medical doctor is necessary.

Popliteal cyst

The back of the knee can be an associated cause of calf pain.

A Popliteal cyst – also known as a ‘Bakers cyst,’ is caused by excess fluid in the soft tissues behind the knee.

The popliteal fossa contains a particular amount of fluid to help with knee mobility and flexibility. In some cases, an excess of fluid forms in an encapsulated bubble. 

This fluid builds up to form a lump at the back of the knee joint, which may or may not be visible to the naked eye. 

A diagnosis of a Popliteal cyst is usually confirmed via medical imaging. 

Such cases of a Baker’s cyst may be monitored if they are small and not causing discomfort. 

Larger cysts can be aspirated (drained) and followed up as required.


Healing process

It entirely depends on the cause of calf pain when bending the knee as to what treatment may be prescribed.

In most cases, rest is crucial. This goes for all muscle injuries anywhere in the body. An ice pack, too, may help relieve pain and discomfort in the acute phase of injury (if applicable)

Physical activity would be discouraged for at least a few weeks when treating calf pain. 

It’s essential to listen to your medical doctor or therapist about how long the rest period should be. Rest is critical for good healing of the calf muscles.

Discuss over-the-counter pain medicine with your medical doctor to help relieve discomfort, as this will help you manage the calf pain and get on with your daily activities if you can.


When to worry about calf pain?

You need to worry about calf pain when it is chronic or if it arises due to no acute injury. Calf pain is normal when you are sore from a workout or even if you have strained your calf, but is NOT common when no acute injury or event has occurred.

How to get rid of knee and calf pain?

The main way to alleviate calf pain from an acute injury is to rest, elevate, and ice the injured calf. If no acute injury was endured talk to your medical provider immediately to rule out a more serious condition.

About the Author

Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.

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