The calf muscle is located on the back of your lower leg. It is made up of diamond-shaped muscles which form a bulge under the skin. A smaller muscle is located under these muscles. Both are attached to the Achilles tendon at the base near heel bone. This part of your anatomy pulls the heel up when walking. See images and pictures for detailed illustration.
A lump in calf muscle can be caused by a number of factors and conditions. Depending on the cause, the lump can be painful, painless, small, hard and so on.
It is always good to have a lump on any part of your body checked by your doctor. Most lumps are largely benign but some can be signs of serious underlying medical conditions or diseases such as cancer.
Painful lump in calf muscle
In most cases, a painful lump in the calf muscle will be due to a form of injury sustained in the calf muscles. This is very common in athletes and bodybuilders. Forms of calf muscle injuries include:
Strained or pulled calf muscle
A strain occurs when a muscle stretches beyond its normal limit. Strained muscles are slightly painful. As the pulled muscle heals, a slightly painful small lump in the calf muscle will form.
Torn calf muscle
Muscles are made of fibers. When calf muscles are strained, one or more of fibers that form them tear. Sudden or severe strain results in tearing of several calf muscle fibers, which is usually painful. A lump will form as the muscles recover.
Ruptured calf muscle
Rupturing of calf muscles results in a serious and very painful injury. A large lump is likely to form due to collapse of the lower part of the ruptured muscle.
Muscle cramps are not caused by muscle injuries. They however result in very painful lumps. A muscle cramp occurs when muscles contract suddenly and involuntarily. It is not known exactly what causes this effect. Medical help should be sought if muscle cramps happen frequently, are accompanied by symptoms such as leg swelling, cause skin changes and fail to respond to home care measures.
Muscle soreness can cause small lump in the calf muscle. This may happen immediately after exercising or up to 72 hours after. Muscle soreness is not harmful. It is a sign that your muscles are adapting to strenuous activities. To bodybuilders, it in fact is a good sign.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Deep vein thrombosis describes the formation of blood clots in deep blood veins. It is very common in lower legs and can be felt as a lump in the calf muscle. Risk factors include certain medical conditions and not moving for a long time. Symptoms include discolored skin, pain and feeling warm in the affected calf muscle. Thrombosis or clotting of blood in blood vessels is dangerous, especially when occurring in large blood vessels. Mild cases can however be left to resolve on their own. For example, a hard lump on the penis after rough sex or masturbation due to Lymphocele requires no treatment. Lymphocele is not similar but closely related to thrombosis.
Damaged blood vessels leak blood. Once leaked, the blood will clot under skin. This type of blood clot is referred to as a hematoma. A hematoma lump in the calf muscles will be painful due to the injury that damaged blood vessels. It is, however, not a cause for concern.
A hard lump in the calf muscle may be due to myositis ossifican. This is formation of a bone-like tissue inside a muscle tissue. Myositis ossifican is usually reported after acute or repeated muscle injury or trauma.
This is a condition that results in breakdown of muscles, especially calf muscles. It can occur as a side effect of drugs or after long term pressure.
Other causes of lump in calf muscle
Benign tumors are growths or lumps that do not spread or invade other body tissues. Lipomas and fibromas are most common. Lipomas lumps are soft, rubbery and movable to the touch. Benign tumors are rarely a cause for concern.
Cysts are pockets filled with fluid or gas that form beneath the skin. Sebaceous cysts are most common. They form out of sebaceous glands. To the touch, a sebaceous cyst is firm but a bit soft. Most are painless. Sebaceous cysts can form anywhere on skin. They are common causes of a hard lump in the earlobe.
Baker’s cysts are also common. They, however, occur behind the knee rather than on the calf muscle. People diagnosed with arthritis or who have sustained a cartilage tear are more likely to develop Baker’s cysts.
Like Baker’s cysts, ganglion cysts occur above the calf muscles. They arise from joint tissues. Ganglion cysts are common causes of lump on the wrist under the skin. A ganglion cyst can also form a hard lump on top of the foot.
Hemangiomas are noncancerous growths that form on blood vessels. They mostly appear in form of red nodules in the skin. Hemangiomas are common in infants but can also occur later in life. A red lump on the neck of a child can for example be a hemangioma.
Infections such as calf muscle myositis or boils can also be responsible for calf muscle lumps. Calf muscle myositis is an autoimmune disease that sees the immune system attack healthy calf muscle tissues. Boils form on skin in form of painful pus-filled bumps. They are common on damaged or cracked skin.
Is a hard lump in calf muscle a sign of cancer?
It is not common for cancer tumors to develop in calf muscles. A rare type of cancer known as sarcoma can however develop in the connective tissues of calf muscles. It can also be that cancer cells have migrated from another part of the body. Melanoma cancer can start on the skin covering calf muscles. Skin cancer mostly occurs on skin regions exposed to sun.
Cancer lumps are mostly hard, firm and painless. They also tend to form irregular edges and rough tops. Not all cancer lumps will manifest these characteristics however. For example, you can have a hard painful lump in the genital area that is cancerous. The typical characteristic is continuous incremental growth in size and mass.
See your doctor if you notice a lump that has no particular cause or is accompanied by signs of malignancy such as gradually changing in size, shape and texture. You can also consider going for regular medical checkups. You will find that cancer lumps rarely manifest any symptoms in early stages.
Diagnosis and treatment for lump in calf muscle
Lumps such as caused by cysts and boils can be identified after a physical-exam. Tumors and injuries require MRIs, CT scans, X-rays and ultrasound tests.
Benign tumors and harmless ones such as sebaceous cysts do not require medical treatment. Your doctor may however remove them surgically if necessary.
Injured calf muscles can be treated through surgery. This is especially so if the injury has resulted in total muscle tear.
Antibiotics, pain relievers and corticosteroids may also be prescribed depending on the cause of the lump. Antibiotics fight bacterial infections such as in boils and abscess. Corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation such as caused by autoimmune diseases.
Malignant tumors are treated through surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. These treatment options have higher chances of succeeding if the lumps are in their early stages. It is for this reason that you are advised to have any lump checked by your doctor.
At home, you try measures such as wrapping injured calf muscles with a bandage. Additional pressure on injured muscles will compromise recovery, so enough rest is essential. You can also try cold compressing on the injured muscles to reduce pain and swelling. Always report any form of muscle injury to your doctor. You will find that some muscle injuries occur over time. Also, supervised recovery measures are more effective.