Calf Strain: From Kevin Durant To The Weekend Warrior…

By Clayton W. Nuelle, M.D.

The Golden State Warriors rode the skills of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to the NBA Western Conference Finals, largely because their star big man Kevin Durant was out with a mild calf strain. As Golden State readies for its meeting with the upstart Portland Trailblazers in the conference finals this week, we thought we would take a quick look at the injury and what it really means.

Durant was diagnosed with a supposed grade 1 to possibly grade 2 calf strain.  This is a positive thing for him, as lower grade strains typically heal faster and have a quicker recovery than higher grade strains.  Every player recovers differently, but grade 1 strains typically require 1-2 weeks for recovery, grade 2 require 2-4 weeks and grade 3 require 4-6 weeks or more.  Thus, in Kevin Durant’s case, if it were the regular season or if he were an athlete not competing for the NBA title, a 2-3-week recovery may be in the mix.

A “calf strain” is an injury to one of the muscles on the back (posterior) portion of the lower leg.  The calf is made up of three distinct muscles: the soleus, the medial gastrocnemius and the lateral gastrocnemius.  The medial (inside portion) gastrocnemius is the most commonly injured portion of the calf musculature.  A “strain” is a partial tear of the muscle itself (usually one of the three muscles).  It typically occurs when there is increased stress or force placed on the muscle, such as when a player jumps or pushes off the ground rapidly.  Muscle fatigue can sometimes contribute the cause of the injury and often a player may feel stiffness or weakness in the muscle just prior to an injury. The severity of a strain depends on how many of the muscle fibers are torn and may be classified into one of three grades: grade 1 (mild), grade 2 (moderate) and grade 3 (severe).

The physical recovery protocol begins immediately after the injury.  The initial phase of recovery attempts to minimize the swelling and inflammation of the muscle with ice, compression wrapping and anti-inflammatory medication. Once the swelling improves, daily physical therapy is undertaken to work on gentle massage and stretching of the injured muscle, as well as the muscles, tendons and joints around the injured area.  After the player is pain free and has started to regain range of motion in the leg, strengthening exercises are incorporated to the protocol.

For basketball players the strengthening phase is especially important, as they require maximal strength of the muscle to be able to run and jump normally.  Finally, the duration of time the overall recovery takes is dictated by how well the player responds to each of the individual phases of recovery.

                  As with most injuries, it is important that the player not return to play too soon, as they could risk re-injury or make the injury even worse.  With a calf injury, in particular, a return to play before the player has fully healed and regained muscle strength could result in a larger tear.  A larger tear would mean an even longer recovery period and possibly a long-lasting injury that could affect the player’s career moving forward.  For a player the caliber of Kevin Durant, it is vital that he make a full recovery so that he may have maximal strength in the leg to run and jump.

A mild calf strain is not nearly as severe as other common lower leg injuries (such as an Achilles tear), so this will be interesting to see how quickly and effective his return is if his rehab progresses well. As mentioned, how quickly his swelling diminishes and how he responds to treatment by a physical therapist and rehab will dictate his timetable for a full return to play.

The extent of the injury and when the Warriors need him and to what extent, will play out in the next few days. Their talent was able to rise above missing their star on Friday, lets see how this next series, and their NBA title defense, takes shape starting Tuesday night in Oakland.

Clayton Nuelle
Clayton Nuelle

Dr. Clayton Nuelle is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon, fellowship trained in sports medicine. He is certified by The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) and treats patients aged 3 years and up for all orthopaedic conditions with the exception of the spine. To get in contact with Dr. Clayton Nuelle, please visit https://www.tsaog.com.

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