Numerous conditions can cause swollen calves and knee pain. According to the Family Doctor website, knee and lower extremity pain and swelling are common health complaints. In some cases, the cause of swollen calves and knee pain is the same. In other cases, separate conditions can cause swollen calves and knee pain. Swollen calves and knee pain can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the cause of the symptoms and the type of tissues affected.
The knee, a weight-bearing joint, is one of the body's most complex joints. The knee is formed by the upper part of the tibia, or shinbone, and the lower part of the femur or thighbone. Within the knee joint, the ends of these bones are covered by a thin membrane known as articular cartilage, which helps the bones glide smoothly over each other during movement. Surrounding the knee joint are numerous muscles, tendons and ligaments that help to stabilize and strengthen the joint. The calf muscles -- gastrocnemius and soleus -- are located on the back of the lower leg. The calf muscles help to flex the knee and point the toes downward.
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Numerous conditions or injuries can cause swollen calves and knee pain. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, or AAOS, swollen calves and knee pain may be caused by traumatic injuries, overuse injuries and certain medical conditions. Athletes participating in contact sports may be especially vulnerable to swollen calves and knee pain. One of the most common causes of these symptoms is blunt-force trauma to the back of the knee that damages muscle tissue in the calf and the ligaments or other connective tissue around the knee. Muscle strains or ruptures, along with bursitis, a baker's cyst, compartment syndrome and certain blood vessel disorders can also cause swollen calves and knee pain.
Symptoms associated with swollen calves and knee pain largely depend on the cause of the pain, the extent of tissue damage and the type of tissue affected. However, common signs and symptoms associated with swollen calves and knee pain include limping, aching, burning or sharp pain in affected areas, visible swelling in the back of the lower leg, tenderness in the calf and around the knee joint, decreased knee or ankle joint active range of motion and observable bruising throughout the involved areas.
Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing swollen calves and knee pain. According to MayoClinic.com, age, sex, excess weight or obesity, structural abnormalities in the lower extremities, reduced muscle flexibility and strength and previous injuries may all increase the risk of knee and calf problems. Participating in certain sports or activities, such as alpine skiing, sprinting or basketball, may also increase the risk for swollen calves and knee pain. A sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet can contribute to the development of certain lower extremity blood vessel disorders that cause calf swelling and knee pain.
Treatment for swollen calves and knee pain usually depends on the cause of the pain. A person suffering musculoskeletal-related calf swelling and knee pain -- often due to trauma in the calf and knee area -- usually responds well to conservative care methods, such as rest, ice, compression of injured tissues, elevation of the affected lower extremity, activity modification and gentle stretching or range of motion exercises. Certain manual medicine techniques, such as instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, trigger point therapy and gentle massage can also be beneficial.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.