A muscle strain is an injury to the muscle or tendon.
These are the fibrous tissues that connect your muscles to the bones.
It is important to note that minor injuries can only overstretch a muscle or tendon.
While more severe injuries may involve partial or complete tears in such tissues.
In some cases, also called pulled muscles, strains commonly occur in your lower back and in the muscles at the back of your thigh or hamstrings.
However, the difference between a strain and a sprain is that strain involves an injury to the muscle or to the band of the tissue that attaches muscles to a bone.
While a sprain injures the bands of the tissue that connects two bones together.
With the help of initial treatment, which includes ice, compression, and elevation, you can treat it.
For mild strains, you can treat them successfully at home.
In some cases, however, for severe strains, you will need surgical repair.
Keep on reading.
A muscle strain or pulled muscles takes place when your muscle is overstretched or torn.
This often occurs as a result of factors like:
- improper use of a muscle
Moreover, strains can occur in any muscle, however, they most commonly occur in your lower back, neck, shoulder, and hamstring.
Hamstrings are the muscles behind your thigh.
These strains can cause pain and can also limit the movement within the affected muscle group.
Mild to moderate strains, however, can be successfully treated at home with ice, heat, and anti-inflammatory medications.
While for severe strains or tears, you may need to have medical treatment.
Symptoms of Muscle Strain
You will feel a muscle strain as it occurs, and the symptoms are:
- sudden onset of pain
- limited range of motion
- bruising or discoloration
- a ‘knotted-up’ feeling
- muscle spasms
In case you have a mild strain, a torn muscle may feel slightly stiff.
However, it will still be flexible enough for use.
On the other hand, a severe muscle strain is when a muscle is severely torn.
This often results in pain and very limited movement.
Moreover, the symptoms of mild to moderate muscle strains often go away within a few weeks.
While more severe strains can take months to heal.
Causes of Muscle Strain
An acute muscle strain takes place when your muscle tears suddenly and unexpectedly.
Such tears can occur either from an injury or trauma.
This can occur due to:
- not warming up properly before a physical activity
- poor flexibility
- poor conditioning
- overexertion and fatigue
There is a misconception that only rigorous exercises and workouts of high-intensity cause muscle strains.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, muscle strain can even occur from walking.
An acute strain can happen when you slip or lose your footing, jump, run, throw something, lift something heavy, or lift something while you are in an awkward position.
Moreover, acute muscle strains are more common in cold weather.
This is because muscles are stiffer in lower temperatures.
It is important to make sure you take extra time to warm up in such conditions to prevent strains.
On the other hand, chronic muscle strain can be a result of repetitive movement.
This can be due to:
- sports like rowing, tennis, golf, or baseball
- poor posture
- hold your back or neck in an awkward position for long periods of time like when you are working at a desk
First Aid Treatment
In most cases, you can successfully treat muscle strains at home.
According to Mayo Clinic, minor muscle stress can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation, RICE.
Let’s discuss them as follows:
Make sure to avoid using your muscle for a few days, especially if movement causes an increase in pain.
However, too much rest can cause problems to become weak.
This can also prolong the healing process.
After two days, slowly begin using the affected muscle group.
Moreover, make sure to avoid overdoing it.
Applying ice immediately after an injury to the muscle can help.
This will help to minimize swelling.
Do not put ice directly on your skin. Use an ice pack or warp ice in a towel.
Keep the ice on your muscles for about 20 minutes at least.
Repeat every hour on the first day, and for the next several days, apply ice every four hours.
In order to reduce swelling, wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage until the swelling comes down.
However, be careful not to warp the area too tightly as doing so can reduce blood circulation.
Whenever possible, make sure to keep the injured muscle raised above the level of your heart.
Some other self-care methods include the following:
Using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, like iburophen, or Advil.
This will help you to keep the pain and swelling down.
While acetaminophen, Tylenol can also help to reduce pain.
Apply heat to your muscle a number of times a day, for 3 days.
You can do this as it will help bring blood circulation to the area of healing.
Do not Rest your muscles for too long.
Resting for too long can cause stiffness and weakness.
Moreover, beginning in light stretching as soon as possible, while slowly releasing the level of activity.
Make sure to Stretch and Warm Up before Exercising.
When returning to normal activities, warm up or stretch.
It will help you to increase blood flow to your muscles and decrease your risk of injury.
Stay in Shape
You can make an effort to stay in shape. You are less likely to develop a strain if your muscles are strong and healthy.
However, in case your muscle strain is severe, you will need to seek medical advice or medical attention.
Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy.
When to see a Doctor?
For mild to moderate strain, home treatment should be enough.
Make sure to seek medical attention in case of the following:
- pain does not subside after a week
- numbness in the injured area
- there is blood coming from the injury
- you are unable to walk
- you cannot move your arms or legs
With the help of physical examination and imaging tests like X-rays and MRI scans, your doctor can help to determine the extent of the injury.
Moreover, with the help of treatment that includes anti-inflammatory medications, and pain relievers, you can take steps to reduce pain and swelling.
Furthermore, your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen your muscles and restore movement.
In case of severe cases, you may need surgery to repair the muscle.
It is important to note that you can reduce the chances of straining your muscles if you take some basic precautions.
Try not to Sit in one position for Too Long
It is important that you take frequent breaks to move and change your position.
You can use a chair that provides good support for your lower back or use a pillow for support.
Moreover, try to keep your knees level with your hips.
Maintain Good Posture when Standing or Sitting
In case you spend a long time in one position, make sure to try to alternate one foot and then the other on a low footstool.
This will help to decrease stress on your back muscles.
Lift Objects Carefully
Keep your back straight, bend at your knees, and always lift with your legs.
Hold the weight close to the body and do not lift and twist at the same time.
Take Precautions to prevent Falls
You should be careful to prevent falls, like holding handrails on stairways, avoiding slippery surfaces, and keep on the floors uncluttered.
In case you are overweight, take steps to lose those extra kilos.
Wear Shoes that Fit Properly
Make sure to wear shoes that fit properly, so that your feet do not slip.
With the help of regular exercise, you can keep your muscles healthy and strong.
However, proper techniques are also important to prevent muscle strains.
Always stretch and warm up before engaging in any physical activity.
In the same way, take time to stretch after each workout or session of physical activity to prevent muscle stiffness.
If you are new to exercising, start slowly, and build up your activity a little at a time.
Furthermore, it is vital to understand the limitation of your body.
If something does not feel right during an activity, stop immediately.
Recovery time from muscle strain depends on the severity of the injury. For a mild strain, you will be able to return to normal activities within three to six weeks with basic home care. However, for severe strain, recovery can take a number of months. In severe cases, surgical repair and physical therapy may be necessary.
With the help of proper treatment, you can recover completely. You can improve your chances of recovery by taking steps to avoid getting the same injury again. Moreover, follow the instructions of your doctor, and do not engage in strenuous physical activity until your muscles heal completely.