Plantaris Muscle Pain: Strains and Tears at the Back of the Leg

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Strains or tears of the plantaris muscle at the back of the leg can cause pain and swelling similar to a calf strain or Achilles tendon tear. You may feel immediate pain, cramping, and other symptoms. Activities that involve lunging forward are often to blame for plantaris injuries.

The plantaris muscle and tendon are in a similar location to other muscles of the calf and the Achilles tendon. Thankfully, recovery from a plantaris muscle injury is typically much simpler.

This article explores the anatomy of the back of the leg and the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of plantaris muscle injuries.

Anatomy of the Back of the Leg

The gastrocnemius and the soleus muscles are he major muscles in the back of the leg. The gastrocnemius has two major portions, the medial and lateral heads of the gastrocnemius, and is closer to the skin. The soleus is located deeper in the leg. 

Together, the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles form the Achilles tendon, which blends into a tight tendon in the back of the heel.

The Achilles tendon attaches to the heel bone (the calcaneus). When the calf muscles contract, they point the foot downward. This motion is important in propelling the body forward when walking, running, and especially when sprinting. 

The plantaris muscle is a smaller component of the calf muscles. The plantaris muscle and tendon sit roughly in the center of the calf, between the two heads of the gastrocnemius.

Interestingly, around 7% to 20% of the population is born without plantaris muscles. There can also be variations, such as having a double- or triple-headed plantaris muscle. Not having this muscle or having a variation does not appear to affect mobility, either in the long or short term.

Symptoms of Plantaris Strains and Tears

Symptoms of a Plantaris Muscle Rupture
Illustration by Jessica Olah, Verywell

Plantaris muscle ruptures, which are the most common plantaris muscle injuries, occur most frequently during running or jumping. They have also been called "tennis leg" as many people who sustain this injury are athletes who are lunging forward, such as a tennis player might do.

Typical symptoms of a plantaris muscle rupture include:

  • Sudden pain in the back of the calf
  • A swelling or bunching of the calf muscle
  • Swelling and bruising in the back of the leg
  • Cramping and spasm sensations of the calf muscle

Diagnosing the Cause of Plantaris Muscle Pain

Confirming the reason behind your pain is essential, in large part to ensure the injury is not a more serious Achilles tendon tear.

Plantaris muscle tears can be differentiated from an Achilles tendon tear in that the foot can be pointed downward following the plantaris rupture. With an Achilles tear, it cannot.

Plantaris ruptures can also be confused with a blood clot in the large veins of the calf, called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can be dangerous.

If the diagnosis is unclear, there are tests that can be performed to confirm or exclude the diagnosis of a plantaris rupture. Those most often used are:

Both of these tests can be useful in confirming an injury to the plantaris muscle or to look for other possible causes of calf pain.

Treating Plantaris Injuries

Treatment of a plantaris muscle injury is almost always non-surgical. While the injuries can cause pain and disability, the symptoms almost always resolve with simple treatment steps.

R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is typically used first.

If the pain is significant, patients may require a brief time of immobilization or crutch use to allow the pain to subside.

Gradual increases in mobility and strength can be obtained with the assistance of an athletic trainer or physical therapist.

With conservative treatment, symptoms will gradually resolve over the course of several weeks. Full recovery may take up to eight weeks depending on the severity of the injury.


Running along with the other muscles of the calf, the plantaris muscle and tendon are in a similar location to the muscles of the calf and Achilles tendon.

Plantaris ruptures occur most often during running or jumping. Plantaris injuries can have similar symptoms to Achilles tendon tear, but recovery is much quicker.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Olewnik Ł, Zielinska N, Karauda P, Tubbs RS, Polguj M. A three-headed plantaris muscle: evidence that the plantaris is not a vestigial muscleSurg Radiol Anat. 2020;42(10):1189-1193. doi:10.1007/s00276-020-02478-8

  2. Spang C, Alfredson H, Docking SI, Masci L, Andersson G. The plantaris tendon: a narrative review focusing on anatomical features and clinical importanceThe Bone & Joint Journal. 2016;98-B(10):1312-1319. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.98B10.37939

  3. Rohilla S, et al. Plantaris rupture: why is it important? BMJ Case Rep. 2013 Jan 22;2013 doi:10.1136/bcr-2012-007840

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.