What is a Muscle Strain?
Often called a muscle pull, a strain is any damage to a muscle or a tendon. Before I talk about what to do if you experience a muscle strain, it is important to understand the different types, or levels, of these injuries.
Grade I: A grade I strain, often called a mild muscle strain, occurs when the fibers of the muscle or tendon are overstretched. There may or may not be a few small tears in this type of strain. You will likely experience mild pain with some mild swelling in this type of injury. This is the most common type of muscle strain seen.
Grade II: Also referred to as a moderate muscle strain, these are slightly more serious than grade I in that the muscle is even more overstretched and some of the fibers are torn, though there is not a complete tear of the muscle or tendon. Likely symptoms include more pain and swelling, along with bruising and some difficulty moving that part of the body.
Grade III: A severe muscle strain is one in which most of the fibers are completely torn, or in some cases the muscle is completely torn or ruptured. Movement is usually very difficult and you will see even more pain, swelling, and bruising than Grade II strains.
More severe muscle strains, including Grade III’s and even some bad Grade II’s should be seen by a medical professional to determine the best treatment options.
Grade I injuries are much more common and respond better to more conservative treatment options.
So I Have a Muscle Strain, What Do I Do?
The most important first step following a mild muscle strain is to rest. If the muscle is damaged, doing activities or exercises that use that muscle will only damage it even more.
Using ice and compression can also aid in managing the pain and swelling that may be present.
If there is swelling around the area, elevating the limb will help to decrease some of that swelling.
Build back up slowly. Once you are ready to return to your sport or activity, don’t just jump right back in where you left off. This increases the chance of a re-injury. Start off slow and gradually work your way back up to the level you were at prior to injury. If you start to feel any pain, take a step back.
Grade I injuries tend to heal rather quickly if these steps are taken, often times in as little as 1-2 weeks. If you are experiencing pain that lasts longer than this, it is a good idea to see a medical professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis.
How Can Physical Therapy Help?
A physical therapist can do the following:
What is Stretching?
Stretching is defined as the lengthening of muscles in order to increase muscle flexibility and improve joint range of motion. Stretching activities are a very important part of any exercise or rehabilitation program.
There are a few different goals that can be accomplished from stretching. Before you begin stretching, ask yourself what you are looking to do.
2 Basic Types of Stretching
The million dollar question that comes up a lot is when to stretch. Should you stretch before or after exercise?
Research shows that static stretching before exercise or sport shows no incidence of reducing injury risk and static stretching prior to exercise can actually lower your physical performance. Static stretching helps to relax your muscles and this is not something that you want to do prior to engaging in physical activity.
So what should you do? Dynamic stretching helps to activate and warm up your muscles prior to activity. Research suggests that dynamic stretching prior to exercise can actually improve performance by increasing blood flow to muscles, speed of nerve impulses, and oxygen delivery while increasing flexibility and force of muscle contraction. Although dynamic stretching can help to improve your physical performance, research does not explicitly show that it will decrease risk for injury.
While static stretching before exercise may not be the best idea, static stretching does still have its benefits. Post-exercise muscles tend to get stiff and this is where static stretches can help. Performing static stretches immediately post workout can help to return the muscle to its pre-exercise length and help prevent further stiffness.
How Long Should You Hold a Stretch? How Often?
Holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds, once a day, has been shown to be effective in increasing muscle length and flexibility. Research shows that holding for longer than 30 seconds and increasing frequency for more than once per day does not have any significant increased benefits for improved flexibility.
It is also important to be consistent with your stretching and know that you will most likely not see any improvements overnight. On average, it takes approximately 4-6 weeks to seen an actual change in muscle length from stretching regularly. So keep it up and don’t get discouraged if you do not see results immediately.
When Not to Stretch?
Key Points to Remember
While there are many benefits of exercise or a hard practice, often times athletes may experience some discomfort. When this occurs, it is important for the athlete to be able to distinguish between soreness and pain. Perhaps you have heard the term delayed onset muscle soreness, but what does this mean? Muscular soreness is a healthy and expected response to exercise. While pain is an unhealthy and abnormal response. Experiencing pain following a hard practice or workout may be indicative of an injury.
So, how Do You Tell the Difference?
This chart below highlights some key differences between the two:
If you’ve been involved in sports or activities, you may have heard the term DOMS before. This stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and is a normal response to an increase in difficulty of activity. This is the result of small, safe damage to muscle fibers, and usually peaks about 24-72 hours after activity. Movement may initially be uncomfortable, but you may find that moving and stretching gently will help decrease the soreness. During the short time period you experience muscle soreness, you may consider performing alternative exercise activities in order to give your sore muscles time to recover while continuing to strengthen other muscles.
In contrast to muscle soreness, you may experience pain during or after exercise or a practice. This may be a sharp pain and likely involves your muscles or joints. This pain may linger for awhile, even after a rest period. If you find this to be the case, it could be indicative of an injury, opposed to soreness. It is important to note that pushing through a pain could lead to even further injury, so being able to recognize these symptoms is imperative. If you feel the pain is extreme or is not improving within 7-10 days or so, consider consulting a medical professional for further assessment and treatment.
A good way to combat both of these side effects of exercise is to gradually increase the difficulty whenever possible. This will allow the body to adapt more slowly and decrease the risk of muscle soreness and injury.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this website is compiled from a variety of professional sources as well as the author's own experiences. The information should NOT be used in place of a visit to your healthcare provider or used to disregard any advice provided by your healthcare provider.