Tennis Leg Can Be As Painful As Tennis Elbow

December 16, 1997

University Park, Pa. -- Tennis leg can be as painful for athletes as the better known tennis elbow, especially for players after the age of 40.

Tennis and soccer players, among others, are susceptible to tennis leg, a stretch, tear or even a total rupture of the gastrocnemius, the larger of the two calf muscles, according to the December issue of the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter.

"Tennis leg seems to be an injury that occurs after the age of 40," says Gary Levengood, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at the Hughston Clinic in Atlanta, Ga. "Among tennis players, warming up and stretching don't seem to prevent the strain. I see lots of patients who were hurt during the second set of a match."

Levengood, who suffered the injury himself while playing soccer, compares the pain to what is felt when one is shot or kicked in the leg. "Although it could be farther down on the leg, the pain is usually felt about four inches below the crease of the knee on the inside part of the calf," he notes. "Besides the pain, it be difficult to walk, the area may become discolored and there may be swelling. In some cases, a noticeable depression takes place in the muscle."

Self-treatment should include rest, ice, light compression and elevation (RICE).

"Although it's possible to recover without medical intervention, return to physical activity will usually be faster if a physician treats the injury and prescribes a program of rehabilitation. Electrical stimulation may be used to produce muscle contractions, then light stretches are recommended as part of the rehabilitation process."

One of the stretches is performed by pulling the toes toward the shin with a towel to the point of resistance and holding that position for 30 seconds.

The second is a calf stretch, in which the person faces a wall and places the injured leg back with the knee straight and the other leg forward. The idea is to lean toward the wall, keeping the injured leg straight, while again holding the stretch for 30 seconds. Recovery can take two or more weeks.

EDITORS: For media interviews, contact Penn State Sports Medicine Neswsletter Executive Director Dr. Jim M. Brown at (770) 682-1670 (phone); (770) 682-1810 (fax); or by E-mail.

Penn State

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