Tennis leg

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Tennis leg is a term utilized to describe pain in the leg that is caused by a tear on the interior head of the big calf muscle, plantaris muscle or oftentimes both.


The usual symptoms of tennis leg include abrupt onset of pain in the rear part of the knee or calf muscle. The ability of the individual to move the ankle will be affected. The individual will experience weakness and pain when attempting to stand on tip toes. Swelling and bruising at the rear part of the leg is quite common. In addition, the injury can oftentimes be mistaken for deep vein thrombosis.

Overview on tennis leg

Tennis leg
The usual symptoms of tennis leg include abrupt onset of pain in the rear part of the knee or calf muscle.

Tennis leg is basically a tear or rupture on the plantaris muscle and even the medial or interior of the gastrocnemius which is the bigger of the two muscles in the calf.

The plantaris muscle is described as a thin muscle in the rear of the lower leg which connects right above the knee on the interior and passes down the back of the calf and inserts onto the heel bone. The function of the muscle is to help the large calf muscle in plantar flexing the ankle or pointing the foot downwards.

It is important to note that the injury typically occurs due to trauma or force to the leg while the knee is straight. Certain movements such as pushing off or jumping can also lead to tennis leg. Remember that both movements are quite common in tennis.

Management of tennis leg

The treatment for tennis leg must be the same for any muscle strain using the principles of PRICE. This treatment option includes protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. If you want to learn more on how to effectively provide the PRICE method, register for a first aid class. (Read here for more information on classes offered).

An ice pack must be applied as soon as possible after the injury and continue for 10-15 minutes every hour initially during the acute phase which is usually 24-48 hours. The frequency is reduced as the symptoms lessen and any swelling subsides. Compression using an elastic bandage or knee support helps protect the joint and minimize the swelling.

In case it is painful to walk, crutches might be beneficial since partial weight bearing is recommended. Full weight bearing and normal walking must be done as soon as the pain allows.

Mild calf stretching and mobility exercises can be performed after the first day or two as long as pain is not triggered. Once normal walking can be performed without any pain, strengthening exercises can be started. In most cases, plantar flexion resistance band exercises must be performed to steadily introduce load to the calf as well as the plantaris muscles. Once the strength of the individual develops, calf raise exercises can be started until single leg raises as well as sports specific exercises can be carried out.

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