Most of us will do whatever we can to avoid going to the doctor - particularly when an ache or pain doesn't seem significant enough to warrant immediate medical attention. After all, in most cases, a headache is just a headache, and heartburn is just a sign that you ate too much fast-food too quickly - however in some cases, those everyday pains might be an indication of something far more severe.
Sore calf muscles might not seem like something to phone the emergency services about, but it's worth noting that you should never ignore calf pain - particularly if it persists over a period of time. Pain is the body's way of informing you that something is wrong, and while most of the time you might be able to self-diagnose the problem, signs of lasting discomfort or unusual sensations are red flags that should always send you straight your healthcare provider.
Defining Calf Pain
Just because you should never ignore calf pain, doesn't mean that you necessarily need to panic every time you feel a twinge in your lower leg. People experience sore calf muscles for a range of different reasons, from muscle cramps that occur as a result of dehydration, to shin splints that occur as a result of over activity or poor running techniques. Sometimes, calf pain can even be a sign of tendinitis, when inflammation occurs towards the lower part of the calf, near the heel.
In most circumstances, calf pain is simply a sign that you are suffering from a strain. Strains occur for a wide variety of different reasons, from spending too much time on the track or treadmill, to simply angling your foot incorrectly when you go for a run. If you suffer from a sprain, the best treatment is a combination of rest, ice, calf compression, and elevation - but if your pain is a sign of something more serious, then the RICE recovery method is unlikely to be enough.
For example, blood clots can often present many of the same symptoms as calf strains, muscle cramps, and more. A blood clot occurs when blood thickens in a vein and begins to clump together, and the presence of a clot in your calf is generally a sign of deep vein thrombosis. When clots form inside of your veins, they don't always dissolve on their own, which can lead to dangerous, and even life-threatening circumstances.
Blood Clots, and Sore Calf Muscles
Blood clots represent one of the most important reasons why you should never ignore calf pain - regardless of how unthreatening it may seem to be. An issue that starts for hundreds and thousands of Americans as nothing more than a dull pain in the lower leg, can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation. Even if a blood clot starts small, the fact that it can easily break off from a vein in your calf, and travel up to your heart or lungs means that it could kill you in a matter of hours - or even minutes. In fact, 60,000 people a year die as a result of blood clots originating within the legs.
Even athlete superstars aren't immune to the threat of clots. For instance, Miami player Chris Bosh recently missed part of his season when doctors discovered that the calf pain he suffered from was actually the symptom of a clot.
Blood clots that originate in the calf muscles are often a form of deep vein thrombosis, and sore calf muscles are just one of the warning signs that your blood could be struggling to circulate properly. Though an immobile blood clot won't harm you too much, provided that blood can still move through the veins as it should, the chance that it could move makes this condition extremely dangerous. In fact, cases of deep vein thrombosis regularly lead to pulmonary embolisms - a key cause of clot related deaths.
A blood clot within the lower leg can have various symptoms, including:
- Sore calf muscles that ache when you stretch your toes upwards
- Discoloration around the lower leg
- Swelling or inflammation
- Pain and tenderness
- Warmth or increased heat in the calf muscle
Unfortunately, because many of these symptoms can also be linked to a variety of other reasons for sore calf muscles, they are frequently written off as a sign of a strain or cramp. This is just one of the reasons why it is so crucial to never ignore calf pain, as it could be the only warning sign you receive before a clot grows larger, or becomes a more significant problem. Keep in mind that your symptoms will vary according to the size of the clot, which means that your pain could increase as the clot grows.
Deep Vein Thrombosis and Calf Compression
If you ensure that you never ignore calf pain, then you should be well equipped to find the right treatment solution for any condition you might be suffering from - regardless of whether it's a simple strain, or the warning signs of deep vein thrombosis. In fact, people who regularly experience sore calf muscles are often prescribed calf compression sleeves before a case of DVT, to help prevent clots from forming in deep leg veins.
Calf compression sleeves work by using graduated pressure to improve the circulation in the lower part of the leg - which is particularly beneficial for people who are prone to sore calf muscles, or spend a lot of time sitting on airplanes, or in front of a computer screen. Through a treatment program that focuses on compression and careful evaluation over time, it is possible for doctors and patients to work together to prevent the swelling, and other serious threats associated with deep vein thrombosis.
Although there is some controversy between medical professionals regarding the usefulness of calf compression in preventing or treating deep vein thrombosis, evidence has shown that the graduated pressure in these garments may help to reduce the chances that blood will be allowed to pool and clot. At the same time, they benefit individuals by reducing pain and swelling, while lowering your risk of suffering from post-thrombotic syndrome.
Never Ignore Calf Pain
While constantly sore calf muscles can gradually become easier to ignore - particularly with the help of calf compression techniques, it's important to remember that even the slightest pain could be a sign of something more threatening. Don't risk it - speak to your doctor.