Muscle Strain Treatment

Muscle Strain Overview A “pulled” or “strained” muscle is no laughing matter. A muscle strain is a “soft tissue” injury. It is commonly caused by over exertion or strenuous activities of muscle groups that have not been conditioned to exert and withstand the great force(s) that one sometimes finds necessary in life. It hurts, it’s debilitating and it’s costly. Therefore, knowing home treatment and care of muscle strain is very important. It is equally important that one learns how to prevent muscle pulls or strains through proper conditioning and training. Anyone can “pull” or “strain” a muscle during the course of a normal days activities. A severe muscle strain can result in a “muscle tear” or “rupture”. The tearing of muscle tissue can also damage the small blood vessels (capillaries) causing localized internal bleeding (bruising or hematoma). Pain associated with a muscle pull is due to inflammation of damaged muscle tissue that puts pressure on the nerve endings of the injured area. Athletes, one may think, would be the persons most susceptible to muscle strain, but in fact, it is non-athletes that far more often end up at the doctor’s office or hospital seeking muscle strain treatment. This may at first seem odd to you, but, if you think about it, it’s only logical. Athletes are trained how to protect their muscles from excessive strain and they are taught proper treatment of muscle strain so as not to further damage their muscles when a soft tissue injury does occur. So here are the basics of how to identify muscle strain and the treatment of said strain or soft tissue injuries.

  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Discoloration of skin
  • Discomfort or pain while at rest
  • Pain during usage of specific muscle use
  • Debilitation of the muscle
  • Inability to use the muscle at all

  Note: Do not confuse a muscle strain with tendon strain or “sprain” Though they may sometimes feel the same, a sprain can be much more serious whereas this refers to an injury to tendons and/or ligaments and generally requires considerably more time to heal.     Home Care To minimize swelling and bruising of the muscle (from torn blood vessels) the early application of ice and maintaining the strained muscle in an elevated yet relaxed position is most effective. Do not apply heat as this can increase the swelling and pain. To care for the injury, first remove all constrictive clothing around the area of muscle strain, then follow the acronym PRICE (protect, rest, ice, compress, and elevate) to help the strained muscle recover. Here’s how:

  • Protect the strained muscle from further injury by abstinence.
  • Rest the strained muscle. Avoid any physical activities that may cause pain or inflammation
  • Ice the muscle area (20 minutes every hour while awake). Ice is a very effective anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving agent. “Soft” ice packs, such as packages of frozen vegetables or “blue-ice”, applied to the area will help decrease inflammation.
  • Compression can be a gently applied by using an elastic bandage or gauze with tape. This will provide support and decrease swelling. Do not wrap tightly.
  • Elevate the injured area to decrease swelling (i.e. Prop up a strained leg muscle while sitting).

Note: Ice or heat should not be applied to bare skin. Always use a protective covering such as a towel between the ice or heat and the skin. If not, you risk tissue damage at the cellular level and you don’t want to complicate matters like that! In addition, you should abstain from activities that increase muscle pain or which utilizes the strained or pulled muscle group until the pain and swelling has subsided. You may also take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin or ibuprofen  (for pain) and sodium naproxen (for inflammation) to improve your mobility. Professional Treatment Rarely will professional treatment differ from home treatment, but there are some advantages to seeking professional consultation. The doctor can better diagnose the injury as a tendon sprain or a muscle strain and determine the extent of the injury. He/she can then advise you on the necessity of a brace or crutches during the recovery process and provide you with a prescription for more potent medications to help cope with the malady. He/she can also determine if you need to restrict your activity and provide you with a “bed rest prescription” so you will not be penalized for missed days from work (very important in today’s workplace) and advise you of whether physical rehabilitation will be required to assist with your recover. When to Seek Medical Care If you have a significant muscle injury and experience any of the following symptoms, you should seek professional medical attention as soon as possible:

  • “popping” sound with the injury
  • cannot walk
  • excessive swelling and/or pain
  • fever
  • deep tissue cuts
  • signs of infection

For a minor strain or pull, going to the doctor or hospital is really a waste of time and money. Minor strains are common, especially if you practice weight-lifting at your local gym. In fact, minor tearing of the muscle is part of the process of building new muscle tissue and increasing mass and you certainly don’t need to go to the doctor’s office after every work-out session.   But when you have injured the soft muscle tissue to a degree that is not consistent with normal work-out pain, it would be prudent to go consult a physician. The doctor will start by asking about your medical history, take your vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, etc…) and perform a physical exam. The exam is to determine whether the muscle has been ruptured slightly or completely torn (which can involve much longer healing, possible surgery and a more complicated recovery) or if it is, in fact, a sprain. Typically, x-rays and lab tests are not really necessary as they cannot detect soft tissue damage. Muscle Strain and Recovery In minor cases, most people recover quickly from muscle strain (2 or 3 days). In more severe cases (such as a rupture) the recovery time will be much longer (as much as 6 weeks or more) and are handled on an individual basis by the doctor. You may even require physical therapy. Most important, be patient, don’t try to rush the healing process and always follow the physician’s directions (to the “T”) if you want to recuperate as soon as possible. If you do not, you will only lengthen your recovery time and risk permanent damage. Muscle Strain Prevention To prevent reoccurring muscle strain injuries, here is some simple advice:

  • Avoid injury by daily stretching
  • Stretch-out before you exercising
  • Establish a warm-up routine prior to engaging in strenuous exercise.
  • Initiate an exercise routine as recommended by a professional trainer or therapist


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