A muscle strain, also called a pull or tear, is a common injury, particularly among people who participate in sports. Muscle strains usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit, tearing the muscle fibers. They frequently occur near the point where the muscle joins the tough, fibrous connective tissue of the tendon. A similar injury occurs if there is a direct blow to the muscle.
Muscle strains can be quite painful, and may involve some bruising if blood vessels are also broken. Once a muscle strain occurs, the muscle is vulnerable to re-injury, so it’s important to let the muscle heal properly and to follow preventive protocols.
Muscle strains should immediately be treated with the RICE protocol. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (see sports injuries for further details). You should come in an see us as soon as possible to maximise your recovery and prevent further damage. Initially we may begin gentle exercises and pain relief modalities such as ice and ultrasound. After a few days, when the muscle begins to repair, treatment will usually involve strengthening and stretching exercises as well as massage and functional training.
Several factors can predispose you to muscle strains. These include:
- Muscle tightness. Tight muscles are vulnerable to strain, so athletes should follow a year-round program of daily stretching exercises.
- Muscle imbalance. Because the quadriceps and hamstring muscles work together, if one is stronger than the other, the weaker muscle can become strained.
- Poor conditioning. If your muscles are weak, they are less able to cope with the stress of exercise and more likely to be injured.
- Muscle fatigue. Fatigue reduces the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscle, making them more susceptible to injury.
- Insufficient warm-up. A proper warm-up is protective because it increases range of motion and reduces stiffness. You can take the following precautions to help prevent muscle strain: Warm up before any exercise session or sports participation, including practice. This will help increase your speed and endurance. Stretch slowly and gradually, holding each stretch to give the muscle time to respond and lengthen. Ask us about what stretches you should be doing for your particular needs. Condition your muscles with a regular program of exercises. We are well equipped to help you with this also.
If you are injured, take the time needed to let the muscle heal before you return to sports. Wait until your muscle strength and flexibility return to pre-injury levels, a process that can take from weeks depending on the severity of injury.
A sprain is an injury to the ligaments, which help to hold the bones together. A sprain is different from a strain, which is an injury to a tendon. The most common sprains happen to the ankle or the wrist, although they sometimes occur in the shoulder, elbow, neck or back. Sprains occur when a joint is forced past its normal limit or range. Unlike muscles, ligaments are limited in blood supply and, as a result, take a relatively long time (4-16 weeks) to heal.
Sprain severity is graded from a one to a three. A grade one means that the ligament is slightly stretched and only some of the fibers are torn. A grade two means that more of the fibers are torn or that several, but not all of the ligaments are torn. A grade three usually indicates that all of the ligaments have been fully or completely torn.
A sprain initially results in swelling. Immobilization and/or support helps in the first stages of healing. The ligament gradually repairs itself and gains strength, and the joints regain support. The scar tissue usually is not as strong as the original ligament and the joint may retain some instability.
Physiotherapy is very helpful in the rehabilitation of sprains in several ways. Modalities such as ultrasound, heat, cold and electrical stimulation can aid in healing and control of pain. Soft tissue massage, friction massage and therapeutic exercise can help the ligaments regain strength and endurance, as well as motion in the joint. Functional braces or strapping tape may be issued to prevent re-injury during activity.
We love treating muscle strains and joint sprains and enjoy excellent results here at Fine Form Physiotherapy. Our onsite exercise facilities allow us to take you that extra mile in your recovery and supervise your rehabilitation, providing expert advice along the way. Give us a call to make an appointment with our physiotherapists, who will take care of your recovery.