Muscle Strain: What Is It and How to Treat It

Fall football season is here. Like many athletes, football players are prone to pulled muscles.

Why? Football requires explosive starts, sudden changes in direction, and twisting and contorting of the body to make or intercept a play.

What is a muscle strain?

A muscle strain occurs when movements stretch muscles in conflicting directions, over-stretching or pulling the muscle tissue. The muscle tissue becomes overloaded and reaches a breaking point where a tear or partial tear occurs. The result – persistent pain. Especially if the athlete attempts to stretch or contract the muscle.

Muscle strains are categorized into three grades depending on the severity:

  1. GRADE 1: ?There is damage to individual fibers within the muscle (but 95% of muscle fibers are not damaged). This is a mild strain requiring 2 to 3 weeks of rest.
  2. GRADE 2?: A greater percent of muscle fibers are involved in the injury but the muscle is not completely ruptured. The requisite resting period is typically 3 to 6 weeks.
  3. GRADE 3: The muscle has completely ruptured. (link to definition). For athletes, this degree of injury usually requires surgery to repair the muscle. Rehabilitation time following surgery is approximately 3 months.

Regardless of the severity, all muscle strains should be rested and given an opportunity to heal. Playing through an injury like a strained muscle will cause the condition to worsen and may ultimately result in a complete rupture.

How do you treat a muscle strain?

The body’s immediate response to a muscle strain begins with an inflammatory response. This generally includes swelling, bruising or redness as a consequence of the injury. There is a common misconception that the inflammatory response is a bad thing. On the contrary, this is a crucial element of recovery during which rest and protection of the injured muscle is critical in order to prevent further damage. During the inflammatory phase, the body produces chemicals and cells that remove dead muscle tissue and kick-start the healing process. The key to faster recovery is to follow R-I-C-E protocol as soon as possible following injury.

What is the recommended treatment for a muscle injury?

Large-Single-2Everyone has heard of RICE protocol at one time or another. Here it is again. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. The objective of this treatment regimen is to reduce bleeding within the muscle tissue. Ice therapy, in the form of a cold pack like FrozenPeaz, should be continued for the first three days after the injury. To avoid nerve damage or skin damage, cold packs should never be applied directly to the skin. Compression and elevation further help to reduce pooling of blood around the injury. The advantage of a product like FrozenPeaz is that it combines ice and compression with a soft flannel barrier to protect the skin. The rest and elevation are the patient’s responsibility.

The rehabilitation after the resting phase should involve gradually stretching the muscle to elongate the scar tissue and exercises to progressively increase the muscle strength.

Once the tissue has recovered and begun to regain strength and flexibility, the player can begin sport-specific exercises, such as running and jumping. To reduce the risk of re-injury, this should be done under the supervision of a team doctor, coach or physical therapist.

Learn 5 ways to reduce your risk of straining a muscle in Part II