Tennis Leg is a relatively common sports injury. Like its sibling, tennis elbow, you don’t have to play tennis to develop it. It can also occur in the absence of sport, despite it typically being considered a sports injury.
The Basics of Tennis Leg
Tennis Leg is a non-medical term for a tear or rupture of a muscle at the top of the calf. Most commonly this is the gastrocnemius muscle (shown above). Sometimes the plantaris muscle is involved, which is a smaller, deeper muscle. Both muscles are involved in plantarflexion (pointing the toes), so this movement will be weaker and painful as a result. The area will also be tender for a while after the injury. In some cases, where the gastrocnemius muscle was torn, it may be possible to feel a dip at the injury site after the inflammation subsides.
Mechanism of Injury
The movements involved in racket sports like tennis can cause the injury. Sudden, powerful contraction of the calf muscles is the usual cause. This is the kind of movement involved when lunging for the ball or shuttlecock, especially when making contact between the heel and the floor, with the ball of the foot following quickly after.
Symptoms often come on suddenly, and may follow a feeling of popping or pressure. It may initially be mistaken for an Achilles tendon injury, but the pain will be too high for that. Although swelling may develop quickly, it will be very different to the bulge caused by a ruptured Achilles tendon. The loud snap associated with a ruptured Achilles tendon will also be absent.
Over the next few days, a bruise may appear at the ankle, even though the ankle is not injured. This is a tracking bruise. The injured muscle bleeds, and the blood pools under the effect of gravity. The bruise may be at the back of the calf if you’ve kept your leg elevated or flat.
Tennis leg is a minor sports injury, which means it is well within your osteopath’s remit. With muscle tears like these, good rehabilitation is imperative to regaining maximum function. Your osteopath can advise when rest is appropriate, and when it is time to start using the leg again. Alongside the advice and exercise, we can help in the treatment room too. Drainage techniques can help to manage excessive swelling, and we will monitor other areas of the body for compensation too. When gait is altered by injury, it is not uncommon for areas like the lower back to become painful as they adapt to the change. Treatment is tailored to your precise symptoms- not the condition.
As symptoms subside, your osteopath will want you to begin using the calf muscles again. We know that muscle fibres heal better when they are exercised in the movements that are normally expected of it. It can be daunting returning to exercise after an injury, but your osteopath will advise you of the correct level of demand to place on it.