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Swollen Calf Symptoms

Apparently, that flight from New York to London was not just a mental challenge, it took a toll on the body as well! Your calf a little larger than usual - you are experiencing a swollen calf.

A swollen calf, just like any ailment of the leg, can create a range of issues as we try to navigate the world. The good news is that your swollen calf symptoms are not always a cause for panic and may be more of a nuisance than anything else.

Symptoms of a swollen calf include:

  • Discomfort while standing or walking
  • Enlarged calf
  • Swelling along a leg vein
  • Pain and/or leg tenderness, particularly while standing or walking
  • Discolored/red skin
  • Swollen areas that are warm to the touch

The calf is located in the lower portion of the leg and consists of muscles and tendons that connect between the knee and ankle. Running, jumping, and other athletic movements are all made possible by the calf and its "fast twitch" muscle fibers. The calf is relatively large when compared to many other components of the body, but it is also one of the closest to the ground and furthest from the heart. These two factors lend the calf to swelling from a variety of causes.

Swollen Calf Causes Overview

Taking a hard look at the cause is a critical step towards determining if a basic home remedy will be sufficient or if a trip to the doctor is warranted. Typical causes of a swollen calf are:

Environmental causes:

  • Natural Causes: The condition of the body can sometimes be enough to cause calf swelling. Swelling is often linked to the retention of water which is increased by being overweight, pregnant, or while menstruating. Remaining on your feet for long periods or, conversely, sitting for an extended duration may also lead to a swollen calf
  • Medications: Taking certain medications, such as those to treat depression, hormone medications, and steroids are known to cause calf swelling.

Traumatic causes:

  • Strains: Overexertion during athletic activities can lead to muscle strains and swelling.
  • Breaks: Significant trauma to the shin can cause breaks and lead to a swollen calf.
  • Surgery: Swelling is a common by-product of surgical procedures on the calf.

Systemic disease swollen calf causes:

  • Organ failure: A wide range of effects, including swelling in the calf, can occur when the organs such as the kidney, heart, and liver begin to fail.
  • Vascular: Swelling can occur when blood is ineffectively pumped throughout the body. Such a condition can lead to swelling through issues with veins and blood clots. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is more common after long airplane trips due to both the cabin pressure, dehydration as well as prolonged periods of immobilization. DVT or pulmonary embolus (PE) from a DVT that has dislodged to the lungs need immediate evaluation and treatment. For prevention, get up and walk around every hour or 2 on long flights and consider compression stockings if you have poor circulation.

Inflammatory swollen calf causes:

  • Autoimmune: Disorders that cause the body to attack itself can cause disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Infections: Swelling may result when the sections of the lower leg become infected.

2 Potential Swollen Calf Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Calf Bruise

    A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the calf are common, given the location on the body.

    Bruises will begin to heal over the course of a week

    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one calf, calf pain from an injury, recent calf injury, swollen calf, bruised calf
    Symptoms that always occur with calf bruise:
    recent calf injury, calf pain from an injury

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  2. 2.Baker's Cyst (Popliteal Cyst)

    A Baker's cyst, also called as Popliteal cyst, is a fluid-filled mass that causes a bulge and a feeling of tightness behind the knee. The pain can get worse when the knee is fully flexed or extended.

    Recovery with nonsurgical treatment varies

    Top Symptoms:
    calf pain, swollen knee, knee pain that gets worse when squatting, knee instability, dull, achy knee pain
    Symptoms that always occur with baker's cyst (popliteal cyst):
    lump on the back of the knee, constant knee lump
    Primary care doctor

Swollen Calf Treatments and Relief

As with all ailments, the ideal treatment is one that can be performed at home. Fortunately, the most common causes of a swollen calf do lend themselves to such treatments.

While normally there is little cause for concern, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if the following are experienced along with the swelling:

A swollen calf from a common strain or from being pregnant is an ideal candidate for home remedies, but there are also far more significant causes that will require the involvement of a doctor. Treatments for a swollen calf include:

At-home treatments:

  • Rest and ice: Giving the calf a chance to recuperate can sometimes be the best medicine. Rest the calf for an extended period. Place ice on the affected area in 15-20 minute intervals.
  • Elevation: Maintaining the calf at an elevation above the heart will help fluid leave the affected area and reduce swelling.
  • Compression : Keep the swollen calf wrapped tightly, but not so tight as to cut off circulation.
  • Over-the-Counter Medicines: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, are commonly used to help reduce pain and limit inflammation.
  • Lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly will promote blood flow throughout the body and improve circulation.

Professional treatments:

  • Prescription medications: Certain medications called diuretics are designed to help the body eliminate water and reduce swelling. There are also medications for further encouraging blood flow by reducing blood clotting.

The calf is critical for both everyday movements like walking and almost more important for more athletic activities such as jumping, climbing, and running. A swollen calf may be nothing more than a nuisance, but it could also be a sign of a more systemic problem. Either way, proper care through either home swollen calf remedies or from working with a doctor can help return the calf to normal.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Calf

  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.What is your body mass?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our swollen calf symptom checker to find out more.

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Swollen Calf Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced swollen calf have also experienced:

    • 10% Swollen Ankle
    • 7% Calf Pain
    • 4% Lower Leg Pain
  • People who have experienced swollen calf had symptoms persist for:

    • 29% Over a Month
    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 22% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced swollen calf were most often matched with:

    • 2% Calf Bruise
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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