What are the Common Causes of Calf Swelling?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2019
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Calf swelling is commonly caused by an injury to the bones, muscles, or tendons associated with the calf area. Other causes may include infections or diseases, overuse of the muscles, and even standing or sitting for long periods of time. While some conditions that cause calf swelling are serious and even life-threatening, most causes of calf swelling are minor conditions that can be treated quickly and easily. Muscle strains, for example, may cause swelling and can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation — known as the RICE treatment — but a more serious muscle rupture may need to be addressed surgically.

Conditions such as cellulitis may cause calf swelling. Cellulitis is the inflammation of certain tissues, and the condition may be accompanied by redness or a rash-like appearance on the skin. Very often swelling accompanies the condition, and when it is present on the calf, discomfort along with swelling may exist in that region of the body. This condition is often treated with antibiotics and goes away fairly quickly. Other infections can cause calf swelling as well, and a diagnosis from a doctor is usually necessary to dictate treatment.


Muscle strains occur when the tiny fibers that make up the muscle tear, causing discomfort in the muscle. Calf swelling may occur when a muscle strains, though the swelling is usually mild. Bruising may also occur in more severe strains, though again, this is rare and the bruising will generally be light. Resting the affected muscle, icing it, and elevating it for extended periods can reduce swelling and help alleviate some of the pain. A muscle strain that results in a rupture, however, is much more severe and will require treatment from a doctor. A rupture occurs when the muscle becomes completely torn or separated from its securing points. When a rupture occurs, intense pain is likely to be felt, and it will be accompanied by noticeable swelling or a bunching of the muscle in one area of the calf. Surgery may be necessary to repair the ruptured muscle.

A direct impact or injury is perhaps the most likely cause of calf swelling. A direct impact common in contact sports can cause damage to the muscles or bones within the calf. A fracture of the bone, for example, will cause moderate to intense pain accompanied by swelling in the affected area. Some bruises that result from a direct impact may cause minor to moderate swelling as well.



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