Calf pain can be caused by several different problems involving the muscles or blood vessels of the calf area of the lower leg.
Muscle cramps affecting the calf muscles are fairly common, especially after exercise. Muscle cramps are typically transient, only lasting for a few minutes. Dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes can also trigger muscle cramping. Some individuals experience leg cramping at night when they are trying to sleep. Lower leg cramping can usually be relieved by applying a heating pad or stretching the muscle.
Muscle strains are also a common cause of calf pain. The calf muscle will become painful and inflamed if the muscle fibers are overstretched or torn. Tendonitis of the achilles tendon, the large tendon at the back of the heel, can also cause pain in the area of the calf.
Blood vessel problems can cause pain in the calf area of the lower leg. Peripheral artery disease, or PAD, is a condition where arteries in the arms and legs become narrowed and blood flow is reduced to these areas. When the muscles of the legs are used, the demand for blood flow goes up. If this blood flow does not reach the muscles, it can cause pain. For this reason, people with peripheral artery disease may experience pain in their legs called claudication when they walk. PAD can also be a sign of other circulatory problems, such as coronary artery narrowing.
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that occurs in the deep veins of the legs. Deep vein thromboses are very common in the lower legs. In some cases, deep vein thromboses can cause pain in the affected leg, which may come on suddenly. However, not all blood clots in the deep veins of the legs cause pain. Deep vein thrombosis is a dangerous condition, because if the blood clot breaks off, it can travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be life-threatening.
Problems with the superficial veins of the leg can also cause calf pain. Varicose veins are superficial veins that become swollen. Sometimes varicose veins are considered a cosmetic concern, because you can see them protruding through the skin, but varicose veins can actually be tender and painful in some cases.