A muscle strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is stretched or torn beyond its usual capacity. This injury can result from activities such as lifting heavy objects, exercising, or engaging in sports, where muscles are pushed beyond their typical limits. Muscle strains can affect any muscle in the body, with back, calf, and hamstring strains being some of the most frequently encountered types.
Muscle strain vs. pulled muscle
A muscle strain, commonly referred to as a pulled muscle or muscle tear, denotes the same injury. Consequently, there are no distinctions in symptoms or treatments among these terms, and they are often used interchangeably.
Muscle Strain Symptoms
When a muscle is torn or strained, it can lead to the rupture of small blood vessels, resulting in localized bleeding or bruising. Additionally, irritation of nerve endings within the muscles can contribute to pain.
Symptoms associated with a muscle strain comprise:
- Swelling, bruising, or redness
- Pain even while the muscle is at rest
- Discomfort when using the muscle or the connected joint
- Weakening of the muscle or tendons
- Inability to utilize the muscle in any capacity
- Muscle spasms
Causes of Muscle Strains
Healthy muscle fibers function akin to elastic bands, stretching and contracting with each movement. Overuse of muscles through repetitive motions or sudden, unexpected movements can cause these fibers to stretch beyond their capacity and tear. Such tears are more prone to occur in circumstances where:
- Proper warm-up before physical activity is neglected.
- Flexibility is lacking.
- Muscles are fatigued.
- Tight muscles, which lack elasticity, are subjected to pressure, making them more susceptible to tearing.
When to Seek Medical Care
Contact your doctor if you experience a significant muscle injury or encounter any numbness or tingling sensations, especially if over-the-counter pain relievers or home remedies fail to provide relief within 24 hours.
Seek emergency medical attention if you:
- Heard a popping sound at the time of the injury.
- Experience difficulty walking or lifting your arm.
- Notice extensive swelling or intense pain.
- Develop a fever.
- Sustain an open wound.
Muscle Strain Treatment
Muscle strains are frequent injuries that can often be managed at home.
Here’s the initial care for muscle strains:
- Rest: Cease movement in the affected area to prevent exacerbating the problem. Rest the muscle until pain diminishes. Gradually introduce light stretches and gentle activities as you begin to feel better. Avoid excessive exertion, as prolonged rest can lead to stiffness and weakness.
- Ice: Apply ice promptly to the injury to reduce swelling and minimize local bleeding into the muscle from torn blood vessels. Administer ice for 10 to 15 minutes every hour on the first day, then every 3 to 4 hours in the subsequent days. Wrap the ice pack in a towel to safeguard your skin. If pain persists after the initial days, consider using a heat compress to enhance blood circulation to the area.
- Elevate: Keep the strained muscle elevated, ideally above the level of your heart, while sitting or lying down. This can aid in reducing swelling. Utilize pillows to support the injured area.
- Pain relievers: Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or ibuprofen to alleviate pain and enhance mobility. Refrain from NSAIDs if you have kidney disease, a history of gastrointestinal bleeding, or are taking blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) without consulting your doctor. In such cases, acetaminophen is a safer option for pain relief as it doesn’t reduce inflammation.
Assuming surgery is not necessary for a serious muscle injury, medical treatment typically mirrors home care. However, consulting a doctor can provide valuable insights such as:
- Assessment of muscle and tendon damage extent.
- Recommendations for crutches or braces to aid healing.
- Advice on activity restriction or taking time off work.
- Suggestions for rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy to aid recovery and prevent re-injury.
Your doctor may also suggest alternative treatments such as chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture, or myofascial release, a type of massage focusing on muscle tightness.
Depending on the severity of your injury, surgery might be a viable option as well.
Read Also: Top Vitamins for Muscle Pain Relief
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