Putting undue tension on muscles during the course of normal daily activities sometimes leads to strain or pull of the muscles. A strain or pull of the muscles which is called Muscle strain, muscle pull, or even a muscle tear, refers to damage to a muscle or its attaching tendons. Most muscle strains happen for one of two reasons: either the muscle has been stretched beyond its limits or it has been forced to contract too strongly.
These strains can cause pain and may limit movement within the affected muscle group. Mild to moderate strains can be successfully treated at home with ice, heat, and anti-inflammatory medications. Severe strains or tears may require medical treatment.
Muscle strains are classified into three depending on the severity of muscle fiber damage:
- Degree I strain: Here, only a few muscle fibers are stretched or torn. Although the injured muscle is tender and painful, it has normal strength.
- Degree II strain: This is a moderate strain, with a greater number of injured fibers and more severe muscle pain and tenderness. There is also mild swelling, noticeable loss of strength and sometimes a bruise.
- Degree III strain: This strain tears the muscle all the way through. Degree III strains are serious injuries that cause complete loss of muscle function, as well as considerable pain, swelling, tenderness and discoloration. Since Degree III strains usually cause a sharp break in the normal outline of the muscle, there may be an obvious “dent” or “gap” under the skin where the ripped pieces of muscle have come apart.
It is very important not to confuse a strain for sprain. A strain involves an injury to a muscle or to the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone, while a sprain injures the bands of tissue that connect two bones together.
Causes of Muscle Strains
An acute muscle strain is when your muscle tears suddenly and unexpectedly. Such tears can occur either from injuries or trauma. This can be due to:
- not warming up properly before physical activity
- poor flexibility
- poor conditioning
- overexertion and fatigue
An acute strain can happen when you:
- slip or lose your footing
- throw something
- lift something heavy
- lift something while in you’re in an awkward position
Acute muscle strains are also more common in cold weather. This is because muscles are stiffer in lower temperatures. It’s important to take extra time to warm up in these conditions to prevent strains.
Chronic muscle strains are the result of repetitive movement. This can be due to:
- sports like rowing, tennis, golf, or baseball
- holding your back or neck in an awkward position for long periods of time, such as when
- you work at a desk
- poor posture
What Are Symptoms and Signs of a Muscle Strain?
The symptoms vary, depending on the severity of the injury, and may include:
Muscle strains can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- muscle cramps
- difficulty moving the muscle
- muscle spasms
- muscle weakness
- pain, which usually worsens with movement
- A person may also hear an audible snapping or popping when the muscle strains.
Treatments of Muscle Strain
The treatments for muscle strain depends solely on what activity triggered the strain and whether there was a pop in the muscle. Minor muscle strains can be treated at home with Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) method.
Rest: It is very important to rest your muscle especially if trying to move causes an increase in pain. But too much rest can cause muscles to become weak. This can prolong the healing process. After some days, slowly begin using the affected muscle group because too much rest can cause muscles to become weak.
Ice: You can make ice packs with ice cubes in a plastic bag or wet tea towel; a pack of frozen peas is also ideal and can go in and out of the freezer. Apply ice immediately after injuring your muscle. This will minimize swelling. Don’t put ice directly on your skin. Keep the ice on your muscle for about 20 minutes. Repeat every hour on the first day. For the next several days, apply ice every four hours. Never place ice directly on an affected part; keep the pack moving to avoid ice burns. Never treat with ice for more than 30 minutes, and remove the pack immediately if the affected part appears bright pink or red.
Compression: To reduce swelling, wrap the affected area with an elastic bandage until swelling comes down. Be careful not to wrap the area too tightly. Doing so can reduce your blood circulation.
Elevation: Whenever possible, keep the injured muscle raised above the level of your heart.
Other self-care methods include the following:
- Use an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil). This will help keep pain and swelling down. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help with pain.
- After three days, apply heat to the muscle several times a day. This will help bring blood circulation to the area for healing. Heating tissues can be accomplished using a heating pad, or even a hot, wet towel. When using heat treatments, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns. Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods of time or while sleeping.
- Don’t rest your muscle for too long. This can cause stiffness and weakness. Begin light stretching as soon as possible. Slowly increase your level of activity.
- Make sure to stretch and warm up before exercising when you return to normal activity. This will help increase blood flow to your muscles and decrease your risk of injury.
- Make an effort to stay in shape. You’re less likely to develop a strain if your muscles are strong and healthy.
How long a muscle strain lasts depends on the location and its severity. If after applying the above home treatments and the strain persists, it is important that you seek immediate medical attention.
Prevention of Muscle Strain
People may be able to prevent muscle strains by warming up the muscles before doing physical activity and by avoiding overstretching the muscles.
Following the guidance below may help prevent muscle strains:
- Walk at a moderate pace for 3 to 5 minutes before doing any sports or other physical activities. Doing this will warm up the muscles and prepare them for an increase in the intensity of the activity.
- Follow a healthful diet and exercise program to maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can put additional stress on the muscles, making muscle strains more likely to occur.
- Lift heavy objects or items with care and always use the correct technique. It is vital to lift with the legs rather than the back and to carry any heavy loads with the torso to avoid straining the arm or back muscles.
- Wear shoes that provide stability and ensure that any other protective equipment fits appropriately and is in good condition.
- Warm up before participating in sports and activities.
- Follow an exercise program aimed at stretching and strengthening your muscles.
- Increase the intensity of your training program gradually. Never push yourself too hard, too soon.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity can stress muscles, especially in your legs and back.
- Practice good posture when you sit and stand.
- Use the correct technique when you lift heavy loads.
Key Facts About Muscle Strains
- A strain or pull of the muscles is called muscle strain, muscle pull, or even a muscle tear, and refers to damage to a muscle or its attaching tendons.
- How long a muscle strain lasts depends on the location and its severity.
- The treatments for muscle strain depends solely on what activity triggered the strain and whether there was a pop in the muscle.
- It is very important not to confuse a strain for sprain. A strain involves an injury to a muscle or to the band of tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone, while a sprain injures the bands of tissue that connect two bones together.