image of female holding calf muscle
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If you have ever had a sudden pain in your calves, you know how bad it can be.

A mild pull, strain, or cramp can be the cause of sudden calf pain. It can indicate a deeper health concern that might need immediate medical treatment.

The main causes of calf pain are covered in this article and the best steps to take if they apply to you.

If you are experiencing intense calf pain, you should visit the ER as soon as possible.

  • You have just injured your leg and you can see a deep cut or exposed bone, which could lead to an illness.
  • There is skin that is pale or bluish on your legs, feet, or toes.
  • You suddenly have trouble walking on both legs.
  • You experience severe or sudden calf pain.
  • There is no apparent cause for the swelling in your calf or lower leg.

  • You have pain while or immediately after walking.
  • You have swelling in your legs.
  • You have veins that are painful.
  • “After a few days of home treatment, the pain gets worse or the symptoms don’t improve.”

  • The pain is minor or appears to be a strain or an isolated cramp.
  • After a massage or light stretching, the pain goes away.

Acute calf pain can be caused by a number of different causes.


Claudication is a sign your legs aren’t getting enough blood flow. The narrowing of blood arteries deprives your calf muscles of oxygen, which can cause pain when you exercise or walk.

This commonly occurs in people who smoke or have diabetes. Symptoms should go away after a few minutes of rest while standing evenly on your feet.

Neurogenic claudication

Neurogenic claudication is mostly caused by spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces in your spine that puts pressure on your nerves.

If you sit or lean forward, the pain will go away.

Lower leg fracture

If your tibia or fibula — the bones that run along your shin and calf area — break or crack, your calf may be tender, swollen, or bruised, and walking may be painful. See a doctor to help set the bones or put on a cast to help your bones heal properly.

Bone infection

Although bone infections are uncommon, bacteria can enter your bones and create an infection called osteomyelitis.

There are signs of redness, swelling, and warmth in your calf.

You may have a cold. If you have an infection, you can get a lab test and a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to remove some of the bone.


A muscle cramp occurs when you hold a position for too long or are dehydrated.

After you massage the area, do some stretching and apply heat. The pain should go away. If you think you are dehydrated, have a drink with some salt or electrolytes.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

In this rare case, a blood clot forms in your lower leg, which could lead to a pulmonary embolism. Your calf may ache and feel warm.

The skin may also look red. Obesity puts you at risk of DVT along with pregnancy, smoking, and sitting for long periods of time.


If you stretch your muscle too far or place too much pressure on it you can strain your calf. You may notice swelling, redness, or a bruise. It may hurt to rise onto your toes. Rest, and apply ice to the area. It may take several weeks to heal.


Your Achilles tendon can get overused and cause an ache in the back of your ankle running up your calf. This should improve with rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

Baker’s cyst

A Baker’s cyst occurs when fluid builds up in the back of your knee, caused by arthritis or an injury. The swelling may go away on its own or you might need to consult a doctor to treat it.


If the sciatic nerve in your lower spine is pinched or inflamed you’ll feel pain shooting down one or more legs. Ice and massage, along with yoga and gentle core-strengthening movements, can help.

Chronic compartment syndrome

When you exercise excessively, pressure can build up inside your muscles from the swelling of the repeated stress on your muscles, which causes your blood flow to go down. Your calf could cramp or hurt when you move and you may see swelling or a muscle bulge.

A break from movement may help. If chronic stress is too severe, you might need surgery.

Varicose veins

If you stand up or walk for too many hours of the day, the pressure in your legs over time can cause varicose veins to form in your calves. This can cause pain, burning, swelling, or itching.

Compression stockings may help as can exercise. Propping your leg up while you sit may help temporarily alleviate symptoms.

If you need surgery to treat the varicose veins, your doctor may also decide to do so.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy

Around half of all people with diabetes get nerve damage, linked to frequent high blood sugar, which induces numbness, pain, weakness, and a burning feeling in your legs, arms, or hands.

Improving overall body strength and taking medication are some of the things that medical treatment can do.

There are a few signs that you are dealing with a potentially serious situation.

  • The pain gets worse.
  • “After a few days of home treatment, your symptoms don’t improve.”
  • If you hear a snapping sound.
  • The pain is accompanied by a number of symptoms.

If you suspect the pain is caused by DVT, a bone infection, or a bad fracture, go to the ER immediately.

“If you suspect it is caused by one of the other issues, try to treat it at home for a few days. If that doesn’t work, then you should head to the doctor.”

If you are experiencing sudden calf pain, make sure you are not at risk of any serious issues that could be causing it. Symptoms to watch for include a broken bone, a sudden loss of the ability to walk on both legs, or a snapping sound.

If you are in any of these situations, you should go to the ER immediately.

You may still want to talk to a doctor.

  • You are at risk of diabetes.
  • You smoke.
  • You are overweight.

If the pain seems manageable and is more likely a strain or a cramp, try treating it at home. If you can raise your leg and cover the painful area with an ice pack, you can reduce swelling.

This will be repeated a few times a day over the next few days. If the pain persists, you should go to the doctor.